In the current debate on economic and social policy, discussion is often focussed on the unemployment problems of young people under 25 years of age. The primary concern of this article is to discuss the role of educational factors in explaining the very high rate of unemployment among young people in industrialised societies and the particular characteristics of the youth labour market. In addition we shall discuss the role of educational policy in alleviating and reducing youth unemployment, in terms of what we can hope to achieve in additional and more widely dispersed access to education for young unemployed or young people threatened by unemployment. Before going into a specific analysis of the education-employment relationship for young people, I believe it is important to discuss a general issue which tends to pop up again and again in discussions of this sort. Discussion of employment problems among the young often take as a point of departure the alleged different or changing attitudes towards employment and work among young people. Different or changing attitudes form the basis of a theory attempting to explain youth unemployment by ascribing to these attitudes the reasons for the particularly high youth unemployment [I]. I reject this type of explanation at the outset and a priori for two reasons: firstly, and most importantly, because it is an unscientific form of explanation. It does not really belong to the realm of social science. Almost any aspect of youth unemployment can be accounted for by referring to changed or different attitudes among the young. Thus, it is not possible to reject any hypothesis based on the presumption of different preferences. Such a theory therefore lacks explanatory power. The second reason, which is related to the first, is that the answer to the policy problem of reducing youth unemployment on the basis of this theory is to change the attitudes of youth towards education and employment. How this is to be done and the specific relationships between attitudes are often dealt with in a confusing and inconsistent manner [2]. I shall therefore work on the assumption that the main source of the specific characteristics of the youth labour market are different constraints on behaviour in the youth labour market than in the adult labour market, and that policy measures to improve the labour market situation for young people will consist of changing those constraints.

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