Millennials have potential that Latin America and Caribbean must not squander, says study
  • Young people in Latin America and the Caribbean have weak cognitive skills but their socio-emotional abilities are strong, according to the study “Millennials in Latin America and the Caribbean: to work or to study?”

  • The report, which is the result of research drawing on more than 15,000 people in nine countries, also found a high level of optimism and aspiration in this new generation of workers.

Young people in Latin America and the Caribbean have great potential but it could end up going to waste if not accompanied by the right policies, according to a new study entitled “Millennials in Latin America and the Caribbean: to work or to study?” Members of this new generation of workers show gaps in their cognitive and technical skills: around 40 percent cannot perform simple mathematical calculations and fewer than a quarter say they speak fluent English. But they show high levels of socio-emotional skills, such as perseverance and self-esteem, which are more and more sought after in the job market.
This report examines the puzzles that young people in the region pose and what is behind their reasoning when they choose between working and continuing their education. The book is the result of a research project that took more than four years to complete and featured surveys of more than 15,000 millennials in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. It found that in general these young people are optimistic about the future and have major aspirations. For example, while on average 40 percent of young people in the region complete higher education, a full 85 percent of youths surveyed for this study said they want to achieve that education level.
The study found that 41 percent of youths in the region only either work or train to acquire skills, 21% work, 17% do both and the rest belong to the group known in Spanish as ‘ninis’, which means they neither work nor go to school. But the book stresses that these youths are far from idle: 64% take care of relatives (mainly the women do this), nearly a third are looking for jobs and practically all of them help around the house or in family-owned businesses.
What is new about this study is that it goes beyond the variables that polls of households normally examine and incorporates others that are less traditional, such as how well young people know the labor market as well as their aspirations, expectations, and cognitive and socio-emotional skills. The study seeks to understand young people better and promote policies that address the challenges they face in developing their potential – a task which is particularly relevant in a context of profound changes in the labor market.
Millennials in Latin America and the Caribbean: to work or to study? is a joint project of the IDB, the think tank Espacio Público and the International Development Research Center of Canada (IDRC). To download the book visit

About the IDB

The Inter-American Development Bank is devoted to improving lives. Established in 1959, the IDB is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IDB also conducts cutting-edge research and provides policy advice, technical assistance and training to public and private sector clients throughout the region.

About Espacio Público

Espacio Público is an independent think tank in Chile that seeks to contribute to the building of a more just, transparent and democratic society, which allows economic, social and political development that benefits all people.
About IDRC, the International Development Research Centre (Canada)
As part of Canada’s foreign and development policies, the IDRC invests in knowledge, innovation and solutions so as to raise the living standards of people in the developing world. By bringing together the rights partners for high-impact opportunities, the IDRC helps train the leaders of today and tomorrow and drive change for those who need it most.

Press contact

Carolina Mosso E.
Communications Director of Espacio Público
Tel. (+56 2) 2335 4502


More Information

Mikel Arregui
Labor Markets Division at the IDB