Unemployment, rising living costs remain top two concerns for Arab youth: Survey

These obstacles are impacting mental health, with young people citing financial difficulties as their primary source of stress



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A Staff Reporter

Published: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 11:30 AM

Last updated: Wed 21 Sep 2022, 3:00 PM

Once again, young Arab men and women say rising living costs and unemployment are the biggest obstacles facing the Middle East and North Africa.

According to the 14th Annual ASDA'A BCW Arab Youth Survey, released on Wednesday by ASDA'A BCW, a communications agency, jobs and living expenses have been their top two concerns every year since the study began. Only 2016 and 2017 were exceptions, as young people cited the rise of Daesh and the threat of terrorism as the region's biggest challenges.

More than a third (41 per cent) say they are struggling to meet their basic expenses (this rises to 63 per cent in the Levant), and more than half (53 per cent) say they receive financial support from their family. However, the findings point to significant regional variation, with only 16 per cent in the GCC saying they struggle to pay their expenses in full.

Understandably, rising living costs are impacting mental health, with young people citing financial difficulties as their primary source of stress. Twenty per cent said their difficult financial situation was their most significant source of mental strain, bigger than family issues and personal relationships. This rises to 30 per cent in the Levant countries and Yemen.

Now in its 14th year, the Annual ASDA'A BCW Arab Youth Survey is the most extensive study of its kind of MENA's largest demographic, its 200 million plus youth.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of all young Arabs say they now believe it will be challenging to find a job, especially in the Levant, where the figure rises to 73 per cent. This ties in with the most significant number (29 per cent) saying tackling wasta/corruption and educational reform (24 per cent) should be the most important priorities of their governments to boost their employment prospects.

When it comes to education, there is widespread concern, with 83% saying they are very or somewhat concerned about the quality of education in their country.

Continued economic pressures have led to possibly the most significant shift in 2022: the desire of young Arabs to work for themselves. The lure of a government job, once seen as a job for life, is falling – desired by 39 per cent, a fall of ten per cent in just three years.

The private sector is sought by 20 per cent, again a considerable fall of 8 per cent in just three years. All of these have resulted in an increase of 12 per cent from 16 per cent in 2019 to 28 per cent now of young Arabs wishing to work for themselves.

Another concern for policymakers is that more young Arabs are saying they are prepared to leave their home country for a better life. Nearly half (45%) admit they are either actively trying to emigrate or have considered doing so – up from 42% in 2020 and 33% last year. Canada (22%), Germany (19%) and the US (17%) are the three most popular destinations – the UAE is ranked fourth (14%).

Sunil John, president, MENA, BCW and Founder of ASDA'A BCW, said the 14th Annual ASDA'A BCW Arab Youth Survey offered further valuable insights into the mindset of young Arab men and women across MENA. "These are issues decision-makers must address to make the most of their potential," said John.

"We believe that to understand the Arab world, we must first understand the hearts and minds of its largest demographic, its youth. The fact that living costs and unemployment continue to be the biggest worry for Arab youth shows that all stakeholders have much work to do."

"For several years, industry experts have been calling for the creation of millions of jobs in the private sector to solve the unemployment problem," added John. "Our survey results suggest young Arabs are no longer prepared to wait for this and, in parallel, losing interest in a government job. They now realise that being self-reliant as entrepreneurs is their only option."

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The annual survey was conducted among Arab youth across 50 cities in 17 states in the MENA region from May 13 to June 16 this year, using face-to-face interviews conducted by professional interviewers.

The interviews were completed in Arabic and English with young Arab men and women, exclusively young nationals in each state. The sample split was 50:50 male/female.

Presented under six distinct themes – Identity, Livelihood, Politics, Global Citizenship, Lifestyle and Aspirations – the findings reveal a generation at a crossroads, confronted with the dilemma of preserving their traditional culture and values on the one hand and embracing modernisation and reform on the other.


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