Annual Arab Youth Survey reveals optimism for the future

A major survey of Arab youth has revealed that in spite of the pandemic and economic challenges, the majority feel their “best days lie ahead".

BCW MENA president Sunil John: 'Such positivity is hugely encouraging'
BCW MENA president Sunil John: 'Such positivity is hugely encouraging'

Now in its 13th year, the survey recorded the views of more than 200 million young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) aged between 18 and 24 in 50 cities and territories in 17 countries. 

It was conducted for MENA public relations consultancy ASDA’A BCW by PBS Insights, a global strategic research and analytics specialist against a cohort equally split between men and women. 

While the survey paints an encouraging picture of the hopefulness of young Arab men and women across the region, it also captures their growing frustrations about increasing unemployment, rises in the cost of living and access to quality higher education. 

The pandemic cost MENA economies an estimated USD $227bn last year, pushing some countries to the brink of bankruptcy.

However, when asked whether they believed that their best days were either ahead of them or behind them, 60 per cent of young Arabs expressed optimism in the future - the highest level of positivity in five years.  

Aptly named Hope for the Future, the survey also highlighted the optimism of young Arabs with nearly half (48 per cent) also predicting they will “lead a better life than their parents” - the highest percentage recording 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.

Despite these glimpses of optimism, 89 per cent of young Arabs reported being very concerned about the rising cost of living, with more than eight in 10 also concerned about unemployment and quality of higher education. Just over a third (37 per cent) said they were struggling to meet their expenses.

Another one-third said either they or a family member had lost their job due to COVID-19.

The demographic has identified three strategies to boost job creation, stating their top priorities as being: tackling corruption and nepotism, providing more information on the job opportunities available 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.

Sadly the survey also reports a notable shift in sentiments on gender equality, with just over half (51 per cent) of female respondents agreeing they have the same rights as men - a drop of 64 per cent the previous year. 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.

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. 

Meanwhile, 44 per cent of young women also said men have better access to professional opportunities nowadays, up from just over a third (35 per cent) last year.

Further findings from the survey reveal: 

  • Fewer young Arabs now consider emigration - 33 per cent, down from 42 per cent who were surveyed last year. 
  • Today nearly 72 per cent of young Arabs trust their government to address their priorities and hear their opinions. 
  • More than half of young Arabs (51 per cent) believe the US has the most influence over the Middle East, followed by Saudi Arabia (29 per cent) and the UAE at 23 per cent. 
  • For the 10th consecutive year, respondents said the UAE was a country in the world they most wanted to live in (47 per cent) and for their own country to emulate (46 per cent).

Sunil John, president, MENA, at 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. 

“That voice has become more emphatic as we have expanded our research over the years, from nine countries in 2008 when we launched the survey, to 17 Arab states and territories today, charting along the way youth insights in the wake of the global economic downturn, before and after the Arab Spring, and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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.”

Donna Imperato, global CEO at BCW, said: “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.”

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