A think tank report has found that New Zealand's young people are more disadvantaged on measures such as education, health and jobs than youth in other developed countries.

The New Zealand Institute, an Auckland-based think tank funded by major corporates, has issued a "report card" which rates the country a middling "C" for achievement and a "B-minus" for effort across 16 social, economic and environmental measures.

The nation rates well on overall indicators for education, with the world's fourth-highest high-school maths and reading scores, and for health, with the 11th-longest average lifespans, even though our average incomes have dropped to 22nd out of 30 developed countries.

But the institute says the gap between the average and a disadvantaged group at the bottom is wider in New Zealand than elsewhere - not just gaps between Pakeha and Maori, but also between adults and youth.

"New Zealand's disadvantaged are not doing well relative to the disadvantaged people in other OECD countries," said institute director Rick Boven.

The report finds New Zealand has:

* One of the highest school dropout rates, with the sixth-lowest high-school completion rate in the developed world (74 per cent).

* The second-highest proportion of the unemployed who are aged 15 to 19 (29 per cent).

* The sixth-highest rate of deaths by assault across all age groups (1.6 for every 100,000 people), with a much higher rate among youth.

* The highest teen suicide rate (15.9 suicides for every 100,000 teens aged 15 to 19).

These high disadvantage rates are all linked to a higher inequality rate - "a bigger gap between rich and poor" - than all but six developed countries.

New Zealand's income structure became much less equal during the 1990s and has not changed much since.

Dr Boven said that, in contrast to clear economic targets such as "catching up with Australia", New Zealand seemed to have no clear social targets.

"I see a whole lot of issues, and we seem to accept that they're issues, but I don't see much motivation to actually change things," he said.

He said schools, tertiary institutes and employers seemed to work in "silos".

"It's not clear that there is sufficient dialogue taking place through that pathway to make sure that the people experiencing that system have good, well-managed transitions," he said.

"I suspect that we are encouraging people to particular kinds of tertiary education based on what might attract them from an interest point of view, without necessarily thinking carefully about how we balance what we need in the workforce against what we are studying in the education system."

John Harrington of the National Youth Workers Network said schools were not doing enough to reach young people who did not fit into the academic system.

"Alternative education is only one part of the answer. If you talk to people in alternative education, it hasn't been resourced as it should have been," he said.

Official papers leaked last week show the Education Ministry has suggested closing alternative education centres and sending 1800 students back to mainstream schools.

The NZ Institute is allowing the public to give its own ratings on the key measures in its report via its website and hopes to spark a national debate on how to tackle the problems.

http://www.nzinstitute.org/index.php/nzahead