José Sena Goulão/ Lusa

72% of Portugal’s youth earn less than €950 euros

“The crushing majority of young people believe there are fewer and fewer opportunities to find a job in Portugal. A third intend to emigrate. Lack of money is the principal reason given by those who give up on going to university. The majority live with their parents – and half of those who work have an unstable contract. Almost one in four have already been prescribed anti-anxiety meds or anti-depressants. Only half always vote in elections.These are some of the principal conclusions of one of the largest studies ever undertaken on young people in Portugal”.

Expresso this weekend devotes a double-page spread to yet another generation that has been ‘held back by circumstance’ – in this case, the dismal combination of Portugal’s well-documented shortcomings when it comes to decent employment opportunities and the damage inflicted by the pandemic.

In the words of specialist in European youth policies Howard Williamson: “Europe never had a generation of young people more qualified and so ready to work but without work commensurate with their qualifications. Many young people have reached high levels of training and are now profoundly disappointed because they cannot find a secure job with a decent salary. We have failed young people in the implicit promise that their academic qualifications would be rewarded, proportionately, by adequate professional activity. This has not happened. These promises should never have been made…” 

The dilemma is not exclusive to Portugal. But Expresso’s focus naturally is on the young people in this country – following on from the ‘geração a rasca’ (the casualties of the troika years) and the slightly later ‘geração nem nem’ – the youth that couldn’t find a job, and weren’t in any kind of training.

Considering so much focus has been channelled into education in the last 20 years, it is a heartbreaking picture.

“Low salaries are transversal among young people: almost three in every four (72%) receive less than €950 per month”, says Expresso.

The definition of young people starts at the age of 15 and encompasses the next almost 20 years, to 34.

In other words, it involves 2.2 million citizens – 30% of which “want to emigrate”.

One in four young people in Portugal today “thinks every day about leaving their job”. Only a minority can actually survive on what they earn. 

14% are unemployed – “around a third of whom have lost their job since the pandemic…”

35% are graduates, and “in spite of the difficulties of the job market, a higher level of education continues to guarantee young people a better position from the outset in most of the areas of life”.

It is simply that so many do not end up going to university – because money within the family is so tight. Even scholarships are limited to the point they don’t cover enough in terms of expenses.

The study “Young people in Portugal today”, organised by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos foundation, “gives a worrying portrait of the psychological well-being of young people”, admits the paper.

“Almost a quarter have been medicated with anti-anxiety meds or antidepressants (women being affected more than men) and 12% regularly take medication in order to sleep. They (69%) say they feel under considerable social pressure to be successful at work or in their studies, and to not disappoint their families.

“42% confess to having suffered bullying and/ or violence – whether at school, work or in intimate relationships. But there is an enormous difference in the sexes: 53% of victims are women, 32% men. 

“In general roughly 40% of young people consider life to be below, or very much below their expectations. A third simply say they are not happy.

“Almost a quarter (23%) have either tried to commit suicide, or thought about it (twice as many being women than men); 12% have intentionally self-harmed”.

Psychologist Margarida Gaspar de Matos confirms that “the consumption of anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants is increasing in young people and has been since 2019. It has increased markedly with the pandemic. The percentage of young people with suicidal intentions seems very serious to me. It needs to be well-analysed”.

The results of this study were presented at a conference in Lisbon over the weekend, in which it was also made clear that in spite of changing attitudes, 47% of young men are still “machoistic”. This is reflected in the structure of the labour market: women are still seen as people with ‘family responsibilities’ first, and as workers second. Only in 19% of couples, for example, do the women earn the same as their male partners…

And when it comes to voting – as anyone who has talked with Portuguese nationals will already have learnt – almost half cannot be bothered.

This particular study, which interviewed just under 5,000 young people in June last year, calculated that “only 53% always vote” while 14% have never voted.

“The feeling of being distanced from institutions and politicians is common within the general population”, sociologist Vítor Sérgio Ferreira, vice-coordinator of the Permanent Youth Observatory told Expresso. It doesn’t help that young people have “very little representation in parliament”, and possibly identify with it even less.

While 14% of those queried said they are bisexual or homosexual, the crushing majority are heterosexual, hoping one day to be able to start a family.

Two in every three practice sport (many more men (72%) than women (59%); almost a fifth have a dietary regime (lactose free and vegetarian being the most common) and a large majority (76%) do not smoke, though they do drink (35%).

“10% have used drugs, though only 3% say they use them regularly”, says Expresso.

“Around 50% spend at least two hours a day on social media; one in five spends five hours or more on social media; 21% do online betting”.

Considering the statistics, Howard Williamson said the biggest problem ahead is the impact of young people’s feelings of isolation and disconnection. This comes in the form of mental health problems, eating disorders, self-destructive behaviour, violence, even radicalisation, he said.

“Professionals have to do a great deal more for young people not to feel lost”, he told the paper.