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Rising expenses are the leading cause for concern among young people, suggests the Arab Youth Survey 2021 Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: The rising cost of living is the biggest concern of Arab youth, greater than the COVID-19 crisis, the 13th Annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey revealed on Tuesday.

Almost nine in 10 (89 per cent) of 3,400 youth in 17 countries covered by the survey in the region said they were apprehensive about living costs. Almost two in five (37 per cent) of young people struggle to pay their regular expenses in full.

Next in line of top concerns are the pandemic (88 per cent), education quality (87 per cent) and unemployment (84 per cent).

Kitchen table issues figured prominently among the youths' concerns in the survey. Image Credit: ASDA'A/Gulf News

Burden of loans

Falling into debt is another major challenge for Arab youth, with 71 per cent concerned about personal loans. The leading reason, cited by 19 per cent of them, for going into debt are student loans or borrowing to meeting educational expenses. An overwhelming majority (87 per cent) of students are worried about the quality of education in their country.

Next come car loans (17 per cent) and medical bills (15 per cent).

Economic woes because of the pandemic saw one in three (33 per cent) of youth – or a family member – loose their job. The majority (63 per cent) have been unable to find a new job.

The findings are among the highlights of the latest survey, released annually by ASDA’A BCW, a leading public relations consultancy in Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This year’s edition was held in June for ASDA’A BCW by PSB Insights, a global strategic research and analytics specialist.

Optimism for a better life

The pandemic cost MENA economies an estimated $227 billion (around Dh833 billion) last year, pushing some countries to the brink of bankruptcy. However, when asked whether they believed their best days were either ahead of them or behind them, an astonishing 60 per cent of young Arabs, expressed optimism in the future – the highest level of positivity in five years.

The survey report, themed ’Hope for the Future’, based on the findings, further highlight the optimism of young Arabs with nearly half (48 per cent) also saying they ‘will lead a better life than their parents,’ the highest percentage in three years.

In addition, half of respondents said their country’s economy was heading in the right direction and most expected a full economic recovery by 2022.

Most Arab youth expect full economic recovery in 2022. Image Credit: ASDA'A/Gulf News

Young Arabs identify three strategies to boost job creation, saying their top priorities include: tackling corruption and nepotism, providing more information on the available job opportunities, and education reform. They also say they expect governments to help them start their own businesses by providing more access to affordable financing and reducing red tape.

‘US has the most influence in the Arab world’

In other key findings, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are widely considered to be the region’s strongest allies, with more than eight out of 10 young Arabs describing them as a ‘strong ally’ or ‘somewhat of an ally’ of their country.

Arab youth continue to feel the presence of the US in regional affairs, with over half (51 per cent) saying that the country has the most influence over the Arab world, followed by Saudi Arabia (29 per cent) and the UAE at 23 per cent.

UAE is ‘Model Nation’ for 10th consecutive year

For the 10th consecutive year, young Arabs said the UAE was the country in the world they most wanted to live in and their own country to emulate. Nearly half (47 per cent) said they most wanted to live in the UAE, while 19 per cent chose the US and 15 per cent opted for Canada. Around half (46 per cent) also said the UAE was the nation they most wanted their own country to emulate, followed by the US (28 per cent), and Canada and Germany (both on 12 per cent).

Gender equality on the wane?

This year’s survey observes a notable shift in sentiment on gender equality. Last year, 64 per cent of female respondents said they had the same rights as men. However, this year, just over half (51 per cent) believe so. Young women in Lebanon appear particularly disadvantaged compared to men, with only 44 per cent saying they have the same rights as men, down from 60 per cent in 2020.

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Less than half of Lebanese women say they have the same rights as men. Photo for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Female progress within the workplace has also stalled, with only 46 per cent of young Arab women saying they have the same professional opportunities as men, compared to 52 per cent last year. In addition, 44 per cent of young females said that men have better access to professional opportunities nowadays, up from just over a third (35 per cent) last year.

Fewer young Arabs now consider emigration

Lack of economic opportunity continues to be the main driver of emigration, with a third of young Arabs (33 per cent) saying they were either considering or had tried to leave their home country. However, this is a substantial drop from the 42 per cent of Arab youth who said they wanted to migrate in 2020.

'Largest survey'
The Arab Youth Survey is said to be the largest study of its kind of the Arab world’s largest demographic – its 200 million-plus youth.
The 13th edition, themed ’Hope for the Future’, was conducted by international research firm PSB Insights, of young Arabs in 50 cities and territories in 17 states in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The face-to-face interviews were conducted by “professional interviewers” from June 6 to 30, covering 3,400 young Arabs aged 18 to 24. All interviewees were nationals of their country.
The sample split was 50:50 male/female. The survey covered five of the six GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE); North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia); and the Levant (Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Syria and Yemen).

Hope for the future

Donna Imperato, Global CEO, BCW, said: “Over the past 13 years, the findings of our annual Arab Youth Survey have provided a fascinating window into the hopes, fears and aspirations of the generation that will shape the future of MENA, a region of great importance to the prosperity, security and well-being of the entire world.”

She added: “The region’s largest thought leadership initiative has consistently produced counter-intuitive insights – and this year has been no exception with the continued optimism of young Arab men and women shining through despite the immense social and economic challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, this inspiring message of hope for the future also carries a tremendous burden of responsibility. It is incumbent upon decision makers, in both government and the business community, to ensure they fulfill the ambitions of their young people if they are to realise the continued progress their countries demand.”

‘Giving youth a voice’

Sunil John, President, MENA, BCW and Founder of ASDA’A BCW, said: “As one of the region’s largest communications consultancies, with a rich heritage stretching back 21 years, ASDA’A BCW has been committed to giving young Arab men and women in MENA a voice through our annual Arab Youth Survey.”

He added: “Inevitably, this year’s research has illustrated many of the pandemic’s extremely damaging effects, as well as the work required to meet the future hopes of Arab youth. However, at the same, it has shone new light on the deep reserves of optimism and pragmatism among our young people. Such positivity is hugely encouraging and a strong platform on which policymakers can build a better and prosperous future,” John concluded.