Andy Furlong, professor of sociology at Glasgow University, said "youth unemployment" was a preferable description for young people who were out of work. It allowed comparisons to be made internationally and across different years.
But the Neet group encompassed a broad spectrum of people from youngsters who were "clearly marginalised" to others who had quite a lot of control over their lives, he said. It was difficult to target resources at those most at risk.
Professor Furlong also told The TESS that Labour Party proposals to extend the school-leaving age beyond 16, unless leavers had a training or college place, would not solve the Neet problem. The Government would be better off creating opportunities for people who wanted to return to training or education later on, rather than "taking a group who are sick of it and giving them more".
He referred to the high drop-out rates in some college courses and warned that Labour's proposals would mean logically that 16 and 17-year-olds who dropped out of a college or training place would have to return to school.
Professor Furlong, who was speaking at the international Transforming Transitions conference at Strathclyde University last week, said the youth labour market was more complex than in previous decades. That made it more difficult to identify the start and end points used to mark transitions into stable employment. For many people, their lives would be characterised by moving from one temporary position to another. "They may never make the transtition into the stable work or position that allows them to become fully independent or make long-term financial plans," he said.
However, countries with the most advanced qualifications were more likely than those with a lower qualified population to avoid long-term unemployment, said Professor Furlong.