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Facts About Middle Eastern Youth

1. Why focus on youth in the Middle East?

The Middle East, is experiencing an unprecedented "youth bulge."   With over 30 percent of its population between the ages of 15 and 29, representing over 100 million youth, this is the highest proportion of youth to adults in the region’s history.

 2. How is the youth bulge considered a demographic gift?

The demographic window of opportunity is defined as having a large working-age population and low dependency ratio. The dependency ratio is the ratio of the economically dependent population (0 -14 and over 65) to those who are productive (15-64). With a large pool of young workers, the Middle East enjoys a low dependency ratio which can enable the region to bolster savings and investments. However, the Middle East has a narrow window of opportunity to capitalize on its large youthful workforce before it starts to age. By implementing sound economic and social policies, countries can take advantage of the youth bulge and translate it into a dividend that promises better economic and social outcomes.

3. What are the education levels among youth in the Middle East?

In the Middle East, enrollment rates are high with nearly universal access for primary level and nearly 70 percent for secondary. During the period from 1965 to 2003, Middle Eastern governments spent an average of approximately 5 percent of their GDP on education, whereas most East Asian and Latin American countries spent closer to 3 percent. Despite increase in access, the quality of education remains low.

4. What are the main unemployment challenges facing youth in the Middle East?

Youth unemployment in the Middle East stands at 25 percent - the highest in any region. For example in Syria, unemployment rate among youth (ages 15-24) are more than six times higher than those among adults – the highest ratio among the region’s countries outside of the Gulf States.   In addition, duration of unemployment for new graduates is extremely long, lasting up to 3 years in countries such as Morocco and Iran.

5. What are the challenges young people face with forming a family?

In the Middle East, marriage and family formation is a major passageway for the transition of young people into adulthood.  In the region today, nearly 50 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 29 years are unmarried, compared with 23 percent in Asia and 31 percent in Latin America.
Experts believe that financial costs associated with marriage (housing, furniture, wedding ceremonies, etc.) and economic hardship contribute to the delay. For example, as Dr. Diane Singerman has shown in Egypt, the average cost of a wedding is the equivalent of 43 months of the entire earnings of both the groom and his father. Among the poorest wage earners, the groom and his father must save their entire earnings for more than seven years. The largest burden for Egyptian weddings is carried by young men and their families: the groom pays about one-third of marriage costs, the groom’s family covers about one-third, and the bride’s family slightly less than one-third. The bride herself pays very little, reflecting low levels of labor force participation by women.


Facts are drawn from World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, and recent MEYI publications, including the brochure on “Inclusion: Meeting the 100 Million Youth Challenge” and six working papers on “Social Exclusion: Comparative Analysis of Europe and Middle East Youth,” “Youth Exclusion in Egypt: In Search of Second Chances,” “Youth Exclusion in Iran: The State of Education, Employment, and State Formation,” “Youth Exclusion in Syria: Social, Economic, and Institutional Dimensions,” “Youth Exclusion in Morocco: Context, Consequences and Policies,” and the “Economic Imperatives of Marriage: Emerging Practices and Identities Among Youth in the Middle East.”