This paper presents a framework to analyse the political economy of rural youth policy and institutions’ opportunity space, with a quadrant that measures the extent to which rural youth are a priority in policies and institutions versus the extent to which the government has the capacity to effectively implement rural youth policies. It asks under what conditions policies focused on rural youth employment and opportunities are likely to be developed, and, once developed, implemented. We utilize quantitative and qualitative data gathered from various sources in order to make a determination about favourable conditions for effective policies for rural youth, looking at the origins and complexity of policy responses in an array of specific cases. That perspective is then followed by a discussion about what attributes contribute to making good policies for rural youth, drawing on theoretical literature and case studies. Such policies should aim to be democratic and participatory, cross-sectorial and transversal, coherent and coordinated. They should also be research-/evidence-based, adequately budgeted and financed, and effectively monitored and evaluated. Finally, and importantly, such policies must also be gender sensitive/gender responsive, recognizing the different opportunities and challenges faced by young men and young women, so that related policies and programmes attempt to redress existing gender inequalities.