Contemporary issues in youth policy

There are various real and perceivedadvantages and disadvantages which may attract people, including youth, to live in rural areas: lower housing and living costs, more space, less pollution, closer proximity to nature on one hand; fewer local education or job opportunities or choices, difficulties in accessing public services, including transportation, or a lack of cultural and social venues for leisure, on the other.

However, statistics show that real disparities exist between urban and rural areas, with rural youth facing distinct challenges relating to poverty; education, training or employment opportunities, and access to basic services such as health care. According to Eurostat, in 2015, a higher proportion of the population living in rural areas (25.5%) in the EU face the risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to those living in cities (24.0%) and towns and suburbs (22.1%). For young people (15-29 years) specifically, the percentage of those at risk of poverty or social exclusion is 29.8%, an increase of 3.9% from 2014. The share of young people (aged 18 to 24) living in rural areas who were neither in employment nor in further education or training (NEET) was 3.7% higher than in cities. GDP per capita in rural areas is 72.9% of the EU-28 average. A 2018 WHO report describes how staffing levels in health care for children and adolescents vary markedly between urban and rural settings, and people living in rural areas are more likely to be deterred from seeking health care services as a result of travelling long distances.

While one of the most pressing issues for the sustainability of rural communities is the exodus of young people, the migration of young people from rural to urban areas is often an obvious choice, as they search for better education and employment opportunities, and a better quality of life. This problem can present a dilemma for policy generally, and youth policy in particular, as the depopulation of rural areas further exacerbates the economic status of these communities, while at the same time increasing the strain in over-crowded urban spaces. One of the aims of youth policy is to ensure young people enjoy the same opportunities, benefits, access to services and rights, regardless of where they live.

The 2015 Council of Europe recommendation to member states on the access of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to social rights applies to neighbourhoods in both rural and urban areas. It includes calls on member states to improve the living conditions of young people in those areas, break down segregation and promote social inclusion, promoting meaningful participation opportunities in the planning and management of their living environment.

Recommended Resources

Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2015)3 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the access of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to social rights


This page was last updated by Cristina Bacalso and Dan Moxon in December 2018.

Young people’s views Young people’s views

Youth Goal #6 “Moving rural youth forward”, calls for Europe to:

Create conditions which enable young people to fulfill their potential in rural areas.

The goal identifies that “despite the EU wide commitment to rural development and given the fact that by 2015 almost one third of the EU population were living in rural areas, prevailing differences exist between living in urban and in rural areas. Therefore, it is important to ensure equality for young people in urban and rural settings.”