Youth in GCC countries: Meeting the challenge

A Strategy& survey of young people in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates shows that a universal, all-encompassing effort in five areas — education, employment, the gender gap, leisure, and community service — is needed to ensure that the countries of the GCC reap their demographic dividend.

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Youth in GCC countries Meeting the challenge

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Abu Dhabi Richard Shediac Senior Partner +971-2-699-2400 richard.shediac Beirut Bahjat El-Darwiche Partner +961-1- 985-655 bahjat.eldarwiche London Alan Gemes Senior Partner +44-20-7393-3290 alan.gemes Moscow Steffen Leistner Partner +7-985-368-7888 steffen.leistner

New York Gerald Adolph Senior Partner +1-212-551-6464 gerald.adolph Riyadh Hilal Halaoui Partner +966-1-249-7781 hilal.halaoui São Paulo Ivan de Souza Senior Partner +55-11-5501-6368 Shanghai Andrew Cainey Partner +86-21-2327-9800 andrew.cainey

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This report was originally published by Booz & Company in 2011.



The six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are experiencing a unique demographic period in which one-half to one-third of their population is under 25 years of age. This youth bulge presents GCC governments with an opportunity to propel their nations forward: These young people can bring creativity, energy, and productivity to the GCC national and regional economies. With their contributions, the GCC region can accelerate its development and continue building knowledge economies.
But a Booz & Company survey of young people in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates shows that there are challenges to overcome as well. The survey, together with our research and our experience in the region, shows that five areas are critical for public and private stakeholders to address: • Education • Employment • Gender gap • Leisure activities • Community engagement GCC stakeholders are aware of both the opportunities and the challenges in these areas and are making good progress in addressing them. But a more universal, all-encompassing effort is needed to ensure that young people are fully engaged in GCC societies, including governments, private sectors, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civic organizations. The region needs a new paradigm that puts the region’s youth at the forefront of national policies, and involves young people themselves in building their future. Only such a holistic effort will allow the GCC to capitalize on this demographic dividend.

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Contents 1 Executive Summary 4 The GCC: A Youthful Region 6 What GCC Youth Think 7 Exhibit 1 GCC Youth Are Facing Significant Socioeconomic Challenges 8 Exhibit 2 Young People Want to Play an Active Role in Building Their Society 9 A New Paradigm for Youth in the GCC 11 Survey Methodology 13 Education: Crucial for Youth Development 13 Exhibit 3 GCC Nations Spend a Significant Portion of GDP on Education 14 Exhibit 4 GCC Youth Will Be Almost Universally Literate by 2015 15 Exhibit 5 Education Is a Critical Aspiration for Young People 15 Exhibit 6 Young People Want Their Countries to Be Educated and Technically Advanced 16 Exhibit 7 Young People Do Not Feel That Their Education System Will Help Them Find Jobs 17 Dropping Out 17 Exhibit 8 Young People Are Concerned That They Are Not Prepared to Succeed in Their Careers

18 Exhibit 9 Young People Have a Number of Concerns About the Education System 25 Employment: Making the Most of the Youth Dividend 27 Exhibit 10 GCC Youth Are Extremely Concerned About Unemployment 27 Exhibit 11 Challenges To Finding a Job Are Structural and Personal 28 Exhibit 12 GCC Youth Seek Wellpaying, Satisfying Jobs 28 Exhibit 13 Young People Seek Creative Solutions to the Employment Problem 30 Exhibit 14 The Majority of Each GCC Country’s Workforce Consists of Foreigners 33 Exhibit 15 The Majority of Survey Respondents Did Not Work During Summer Vacations 34 Exhibit 16 The GCC Has an Extremely High Rate of Youth Inactivity 39 Youth and Gender in the GCC: Narrowing the Gap 39 Exhibit 17 Illiteracy Has Decreased Substantially Among Young Women in the GCC 40 Exhibit 18 Women Are Entering the Education System in Large Numbers, Surpassing Men in Some Countries

41 Exhibit 19 In Most GCC Countries, Young Women Are More Likely Than Young Men to Be Unemployed 41 Exhibit 20 Men and Women Have Markedly Different Opinions on the Role of Women 42 Exhibit 21 More Women Than Men Believe Women Should Have Equal Opportunities in Education and Employment 42 Exhibit 22 More Women Than Men Believe That Gender Equality Will Promote Economic Advancement 43 Exhibit 23 More Young Women Than Men Want to Have a Voice in Formulating National Policy on Youth Issues 44 Exhibit 24 More Women Than Men Believe That the Status of Girls and Women Needs to Be Improved 45 Exhibit 25 Young Women Are Less Likely Than Young Men to Be Active in the Labor Force 51 Leisure: Expanding Young People’s Horizons 52 Exhibit 26 A Significant Number of Leisure Activities Take Place at Home 53 Exhibit 27 Many Young People Exercise Infrequently or Not at All 53 Exhibit 28 Even Young People Who Exercise Do Not Necessarily Exercise Strenuously

54 Exhibit 29 Lack of Convenience is a Major Factor Inhibiting Exercise 57 Exhibit 30 Young People Would Like More Opportunity for Activity in Their Communities 62 GCC Youth: A Technology-Savvy Group 63 Exhibit A GCC Youth Are Very Interested in Technology and Follow It Through High-tech Channels 65 Community Development: Youth and Nation Building 65 Exhibit 31 Nearly Three-quarters of Young People Do Not Participate in Community Development 66 Exhibit 32 Much Community Development Work Is Sponsored by Governments 69 Conclusion 70 The GCC’s Youth Bulge: A Demographic Opportunity 70 Exhibit B Population Growth Rate in GCC Countries (1950–2050) 71 Exhibit C The Population Will Begin Aging After 2050 72 Exhibit D The Percentage of Young People in the Population Will Begin Declining After 2020 77 About the Authors


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What Do Young People in the GCC Think?
-- 62% feel the high cost of living is their biggest concern 55% believe it is finding a job -- 87% think unemployment is a major problem in their country -- 45% say that their primary ambition in life is to complete their education 32% think their education system has not prepared them to find a job -- 39% think a good salary is the most important criterion in a job 22% think it is job satisfaction -- 65%  want their governments to develop youth service programs in order to create economic opportunities for youth 62% want governments to promote youth entrepreneurs -- 63%  want governments to give them increased access to decision-making processes and policies -- 70%  of young women and 44% of young men said that the government should encourage women to work in different fields -- 59%  of young men think women’s primary role in society should be that of a wife and mother only 22% of young women agree -- 67% want their country to be known as a technologically advanced nation 65% want it to be known as an educated, intellectual society -- 36% exercise less than once a week -- Only 28% participate in community development -- The most popular leisure activities among young people take place at home: 88% surf the Internet 78% watch TV 65% spend time at home with family

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Young men and women, who embody the hopes and dreams of a nation, are any country’s most important asset. As catalysts for revitalization and regeneration, young people play an essential role in shaping their society and sustaining their country’s development. They seek the new and the modern, and in the process transform their social environment. Young people want to influence all aspects of their country’s life, whether intellectual, artistic, cultural, educational, or political. In the workplace, their energy and brains fuel national economies and their achievements become the foundation for future development. For all these reasons, the active participation of youth is vital for the progress and momentum of any society. This is all the more true if young people account for an unusually large

part of the population, as is the case in GCC countries. The GCC’s six member-nations make up one of the most youthful regions in today’s world; one-third to one-half of the population is under the age of 25. People under 25 account for 51.5 percent of the population in Oman, 50.8 percent in Saudi Arabia, 43.9 percent in Bahrain, 37.7 percent in Kuwait, 33.8 percent in Qatar, and 31 percent in the United Arab Emirates.1 A Unique Moment Youth, formally defined by the United Nations as those between 15 and 24 years of age, are a critical element in the GCC region at this juncture. The GCC’s “youth bulge” is a shift in demographics resulting from the dramatically high population growth in the region over the last 40 years. The youth bulge will also be a


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hallmark of the Gulf region for some time to come; in 2009, the percentage of the population under age 14 ranged from 16 percent in Qatar to 32 percent in Saudi Arabia—significantly higher, for the most part, than OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries’ average of 18 percent.2 The youth bulge will not last forever. New demographic trends, such as declining fertility rates, are already beginning to make themselves felt. (See “The GCC’s Youth Bulge: A Demographic Opportunity,” p. 70) For now, though, the youth bulge is clearly visible in the rising numbers of young people in search of work, who will soon be followed by their younger brothers and sisters. This large and growing youth population has placed the GCC in a demographically historic moment that presents its societies with

monumental challenges and equally sizable opportunities. GCC countries can reap great benefits if they can harness the creative and economic potential of this so-called demographic dividend of young people. Helping them become productive workers and resourceful citizens will give GCC countries a critical advantage in accelerating their economic growth and expanding their human resource capital. This is particularly important as the GCC nations move to diversify their predominantly oil-based economies. Young people are essential instruments for creating sustainable, knowledgebased economies in sync with today’s globalized world. Although large numbers of youth certainly contribute to the worrisome trend of high unemployment rates, these same young people are sources of the innovation and

experimentation required to build the techno-friendly societies of the future. But youth will be able to fully contribute to this critical transformation only when given the right conditions for using their talents, creativity, and energy, particularly when it comes to education and employment. Right now, despite their unique strategic advantage for the region, young people in the GCC are not being adequately utilized or supported by their societies. Despite solid economic growth, technological improvements, and increased expenditure on education, GCC countries’ socioeconomic systems have not yet evolved sufficiently to meet the basic aspirations of their youth, who are seeking both social recognition and economic empowerment. GCC countries can do more to become educationally and economically competitive in today’s knowledge-based global economy.

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In order to shed light on the goals and aspirations of GCC youth, Booz & Company’s Ideation Center conducted a survey of young people in three countries: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The objective was to better understand youth perceptions concerning several issues, including the main challenges they believe themselves to be facing—both individually and nationally. We also asked their views on obstacles to entering the workforce, how well their education had prepared them for the labor market, and how their governments should serve youth. Other questions probed their use of new media as well as their participation in sports, leisure activities, and community development. Because of the increased

visibility of Gulf women in public life, we also explored attitudes about gender as it relates to education and employment opportunities. The survey findings, together with our research and official statistics, form the platform on which we present this detailed analysis of the interrelated challenges affecting GCC youth, as well as recommendations on how best to surmount those challenges. Even though GCC youth live in a relatively prosperous region, our survey found that they are concerned about their economic well-being. When they answered the question “What do you think are the major challenges affecting the GCC region today?” the high cost of living ranked number one, and it was followed by unemployment and


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the economic crisis triggered by the global downturn (see Exhibit 1). Lack of affordable housing was fourth. Answers again centered on finances when respondents were asked “What are the major concerns/challenges in your life?” The top-ranked reply was the high cost of living, followed by finding a suitable job on completion of education, and unemployment. These findings strongly suggest that although GCC youth generally do not face the same level of economic deprivation and lack of opportunities as youth in other Arab countries, they definitely believe they

are at a disadvantage in financial matters. This is key because perceptions matter as much as realities when it comes to social and political developments. Other key findings from the survey included dissatisfaction among respondents with how their education system is preparing them for the labor market, and very low participation in community development and volunteering, suggesting a lack of civic awareness and involvement among youth. The survey also revealed discrepancies in gender expectations. Simply

put, the desire of women for equal opportunities in education and employment is not fully matched by a willingness on the part of men to support complete equality. This disparity, we feel, will be a major dynamic playing out among youth in Gulf societies in the years ahead. Finally, the survey results made clear the encouraging trend that GCC youth today want to be decision makers and agents of change. Tellingly, 63 percent of those questioned said the government should “give young people increased access to [the] decision-making process and policy implementation

Exhibit 1 GCC Youth Are Facing Significant Socioeconomic Challenges



High cost of living Unemployment Economic crisis Housing Loss of traditional values Middle East conflict Don’t know/Can’t say No challenges 8% 1% 23% 23% 42% 40% 59%


High cost of living Finding a suitable job on completion of education Unemployment Getting good-quality education Lack of opportunities to express myself Finding decent housing Supporting my family financially Taking care of family Weakening of local traditional values None Other 2% 31% 28% 27% 27% 20% 15% 9% 45%

62% 55%

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

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at [the] local level” (see Exhibit 2). More than half (58 percent) also would like to see the government “create local youth councils for effective participation in society.” It is evident, then, that young people want to have their voices heard and actively participate in their country’s economic and social affairs. Interrelated Challenges and Solutions The GCC’s demographic dividend poses unique challenges for youth and society at large, including governments, the private business sector, educators, and even families. These challenges arise from a nexus of social and economic problems, including a developing education system, unemployment, gender discrimination, a lack of leisure opportunities, and limited awareness of the importance of community engagement. These challenges are explored in the pages that follow. Education,

as discussed in the next section, is the top priority because it is the root of an individual’s lifelong job opportunities. It also is essential for alleviating widespread unemployment, which is the focus of “Employment: Making the Most of the Youth Dividend” (p. 25). Half of the GCC’s youth population—women—got a late start in employment and today are still facing challenges in realizing their aspirations and achieving equal rights with men. As discussed in “Youth and Gender in the GCC: Narrowing the Gap” (p. 39), GCC women, especially those who are educated and working, will need help if they are to realize their full potential. Finally, the social ills afflicting youth in many other parts of the world are now present in the Gulf, including obesity and illegal drug use. Such problems are exacerbated by the lack

of leisure pursuits and a low commitment to community service—which are not secondary considerations, as many may think. Rather, as we note in “Leisure: Expanding Young People’s Horizons” (p. 51) and “Community Development: Youth and Nation Building” (p. 65), these activities play important roles in developing personal character, giving youths shared experiences, and, most of all, instilling a sense of national belonging and solidarity. Each country needs to design solutions for the challenges that are appropriate to its own circumstances and the needs of its youth. However, we believe that a holistic approach is the best one for meeting the challenges facing GCC youth, and this means engaging the whole nation in the effort. This belief underpins our recommendations, which close out each section of this report.

Exhibit 2 Young People Want to Play an Active Role in Building Their Society

HOW DO YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD INTEGRATE/ PROMOTE YOUTH ISSUES IN NATIONAL POLICY FORMULATION? (PERCENTAGE OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS) Give young people increased access to decision-making process and policy implementation at the local level Create local youth councils for effective participation in society Offer civic education in schools to learn about rights and responsibilities Assess organizational structures of institutions so as to play a role in core functions Don’t know/Can’t say Other 1% 10% 37% 36% 63% 58%

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey


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This paper strongly advocates that the GCC adopt a new paradigm for dealing with and engaging youth, and for constructing national policies regarding this important segment of the population. We believe that a new youth vision for GCC countries is necessary in order for societies to take full advantage of this unique demographic period in their history. Although governments should take the lead in forging this new paradigm, it should also be embraced by all other segments of society, particularly educators, the private sector, civic organizations, and NGOs. A new approach to youth will require a revised perspective in adults, especially parents and teachers. Rather than viewing their young people only as passive receptacles into which culture and values are poured, adults should regard youth as change agents with contributions to make. We believe it is important to start involving young people directly in the programs and policies that affect them because they often will know best how to overcome the challenges they face. The challenges created by the expanding youth population are manifold—but not insurmountable. GCC governments

must create jobs for hundreds of thousands of young people who are marching into the job market each year, many of whom have not been adequately prepared for the working world by their education. Governments also need to facilitate positive civic participation, as well as healthy leisure environments that offer youth rewarding recreational outlets. How governments address young people’s potential and the challenges facing them will shape the social and economic conditions, as well as the livelihood and well-being, of future generations. Fortunately, GCC governments are increasingly conscious of the needs of their young people and are already making efforts to enhance their status. But more strides are necessary. If these challenges are not met, the region’s youth are likely to feel marginalized. The Arab world is witnessing unprecedented turmoil in the form of youth uprisings and protests, fueled in large part by poverty, high unemployment, and high costs of living. These events underscore the dissatisfactions of young people. At stake is no less than the transformation of these countries into dynamic, forward-looking societies.

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Immediate Priorities
GCC governments can initiate the long-term task of creating a new youth paradigm with a number of concrete steps. -- Develop a comprehensive national youth strategy blueprint in each GCC country that takes into consideration the needs and aspirations of young people. It should involve the government, NGOs, and the private sector, as well as young people themselves. -- Set up a high-level committee for youth affairs in each GCC country to be responsible for formulating plans to deal with youth-related issues. -- Convene a GCC-sponsored regional youth meeting, bringing together representatives of national and regional governmental and intergovernmental organizations concerned with youth and employment, to review and discuss youth issues for national implementation. -- Establish a dialogue with young people and allow them to take an active role in policymaking, recognizing them as key participants in the decision-making processes that affect them and their future. Their voices should be heard and they should be positively encouraged to contribute to the implementation and evaluation of policies and development plans at the community, national, and international levels. -- Launch a campaign to change society’s perceptions of youth in the region; the GCC countries remain largely influenced by traditional and conservative values, and the problems and issues of modern youth are still not recognized as being significant. -- Create an institutional framework, possibly consisting of national youth councils, that allows young people, regardless of gender, access to appropriate programs, services, and policymaking forums. -- Collect, analyze, and present accurate data and statistics on youth for effective planning, target setting, and monitoring of youth issues and trends, as well as for evaluating progress toward goals involving education and employment.


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SURVEY METHODOLOGY The Booz & Company survey was conducted during October and November 2010 using a structured questionnaire of 30 questions with multiple-choice answers. Responses were solicited both online and in faceto-face interviews. A total of 415 respondents between 15 and 24 years old were interviewed in selected GCC countries: Saudi nationals (residents of Jeddah, Riyadh, and Dammam); Emirati nationals (residents of the emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah); and Qatari nationals (residents of Doha). The margin of error of the total sample is 4.67 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. The respondents were 55 percent young men and 45 percent young women, and most (85 percent) were single. Fifty-six percent of respondents were full-time students. Among them, 53 percent were at the secondary level, 32 percent were at the university level, 7 percent were at vocational secondary institutions, and 3 percent were in primary school. Another 3 percent had dropped out of school. Only 1 percent were enrolled in higher studies. Among the rest of the respondents, 17 percent were unemployed, 14 percent were working full-time, 7 percent were working part-time (eight to 29 hours a week), and 3 percent were working fewer than eight hours a week. Fifty-two percent of those employed were working in the private sector, 37 percent in the public/semipublic sector, 8 percent in “other,” and 3 percent with NGOs.

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The essential underpinning of any civilization is the education of its youth. This has long been true in the Arab world, which has a history studded with academic achievements. Education is also the keystone of an individual’s life, determining to a large extent future career opportunities, lifelong earnings, social status, and the ability to use knowledge to advance personal and community well-being. GCC countries, as part of the social compact with their citizens, are the primary providers of education for their youth. Over the past 40 years, they have put their oil wealth to good use by investing heavily in education (see Exhibit 3). For example, 26 percent of Saudi Arabia’s 2011

national budget (SAR150 billion or US$40 billion) is allocated to education and training. As a result of such financial commitments, education has become widespread in the region, with significant progress made toward achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education. For example, the number of Saudi students in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools increased by nearly 1,200 percent in the 40 years prior to 2009. At the same time, the number of teachers increased by more than 1,850 percent, and the number of schools nearly 1,050 percent.3 There has also been improvement in equity of access to public education

Exhibit 3 GCC Nations Spend a Significant Portion of GDP on Education




3.8% 3.3% 2.9%

Saudi Arabia
1 2





Figures are for most recent year available between 2000 and 2007. 2007. Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2010, Statistical Annex, Table 15: pp. 202–203; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Education at a Glance 2010

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for young men and women. And in another measure of success, literacy among people 15 to 24 has increased considerably and is expected to reach almost 100 percent in Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman by 2015, with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and UAE not far behind (see Exhibit 4). Clearly, GCC countries have made remarkable strides in providing GCC youth with access to education opportunities. Nevertheless, major problems remain in GCC education systems. These deficiencies, some of which urgently need to be addressed, were underscored by our youth survey. Fixing them will require a commitment by Gulf societies to address curricula, teaching methods, the use of information and

communications technology (ICT) in schools, the involvement of the private sector, and the engagement of society as a whole in the process of education. We will discuss these elements in more detail later in this section in “Vision for the Future of Education” (p. 19). Survey Results: What Young People Think of Education Our survey revealed that GCC governments’ emphasis on education coincides with the aspirations of its youth. When asked “What is your major priority/ambition in life?” respondents ranked completing education first (see Exhibit 5). Finding employment came second, followed by getting married and starting a family. Clearly, many young people

today value the importance of education as a stairway to self-improvement and economic independence. We should also point out one of the most interesting findings from our survey because we believe it is a signpost to an important feature of Gulf societies in the future. In response to the question “What would you like your country to be reputed for?” 67 percent of respondents chose being a technically advanced nation and 65 percent said having an educated/intellectual society (see Exhibit 6). These preferences indicate that young Gulf citizens are not only aware of the benefits and prestige that come with a good education, but also conscious of the close connection between educa-

Exhibit 4 GCC Youth Will Be Almost Universally Literate by 2015

TOTAL LITERACY RATES FOR PEOPLE AGES 15–24 IN GCC COUNTRIES 105 99.7% 100% 98.4% 100% 99% 100% 97.3% 99% 100 95 90 85 80 75 Bahrain
1 2


97.6% 99%






1990 2008 2015E





Saudi Arabia

2007 data. 2005 data. Source: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Arab Human Development Report 2005, Regional Bureau for Arab States, Table A4 –10: Literacy/Enrolment: p. 296; World Bank, World Development Indicators 2010


84.7% UAE2

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Exhibit 5 Education Is a Critical Aspiration for Young People


To complete education 5% To find employment/secure a job 9% To get married and start a family

12% 17%


20% Rank 1 Rank 2 Rank 3


19% 20% 15%

To open my own business

9% 10%

To ensure a comfortable lifestyle for my family

9% 12% 6% 7% 3% 22%

To become a millionaire


To contribute positively to society



To secure a respectable position in society


7% 9%

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

Exhibit 6 Young People Want Their Countries to Be Educated and Technically Advanced


Technologically advanced nation Educated/intellectual society Prosperous nation Leading Arab country in the world Leader in the Arab world Other 3% 40% 51% 60%

67% 65%

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

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tion and technology. As today’s youth move into decision-making positions in Gulf societies, they will bring with them an appreciation of the importance of education, technological competence, and intellectual aptitude, as well as an aspiration for their countries to be known for these traits. However, our survey demonstrated that when it comes to the quality of their education, the primary beneficiaries of the GCC’s education expansion are not happy. Keeping in mind that today’s youth are deeply concerned about financial insecurity and unemployment, it is important to register that many survey participants believe that their education is not adequately preparing them for the workplace. When asked “To what extent do you think the education system of your country has prepared you/is preparing

you to find a job?” only 19 percent said their education is preparing them “to a large extent” (see Exhibit 7). The rest were much less enthusiastic about their preparation for the working world: Fifty percent said “to some extent,” 20 percent “to a lesser extent,” and 12 percent “not at all.” The discontent was also evident when our survey asked, “To what extent do you think the education system in your country has prepared you/is preparing you to succeed in your chosen career?” Only 22 percent of respondents replied “to a large extent” (see Exhibit 8). Almost half (49 percent) said “to some extent,” 18 percent said “to a lesser extent,” and 10 percent replied “not at all.” These findings indicate that young people perceive a mismatch between

what the education system is providing and what the workplace is requiring. And on top of worrying about finding a job, many GCC youth feel ill-equipped once they do secure employment. Many young people are not able to gain work experience while studying because of a lack of summer jobs and internship opportunities. Additionally, on-thejob training is not an integral part of school curricula. Opportunities for Improvement It is evident from these survey findings that young people are frustrated with their education systems and well aware of the shortcomings. Given their aspirations regarding their country’s reputation, and the importance they attach to getting a good education, their disappointment means that GCC

Exhibit 7 Young People Do Not Feel That Their Education System Will Help Them Find Jobs


50% To some extent
Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey


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education systems are not meeting the needs of today’s youth. In fact, some indicators already reflect the disappointment in Gulf education systems. For one, the mean number of years of schooling in GCC countries is still lower than it is in most developed countries. In Norway, for example, it is 12.6 years, and in the United States, 12.4 years. In the GCC, by contrast, the highest mean number of years of schooling is 9.4 years in Bahrain. Kuwait has the lowest (6.1 years). In Saudi Arabia, the mean is 7.8 years; in Qatar, 7.3; and in the UAE, 9.2.4 Second, anecdotal evidence suggests that the GCC suffers from high dropout rates (see “Dropping Out”). The decision to drop out is usually not made lightly, and although there are

DROPPING OUT Dropout rates are a serious issue in the GCC region. In the UAE, for example, the Dubai Statistics Centre’s 2008 labor force survey notes that 22 percent of male and 14 percent of female Emiratis in Dubai age 20 to 24 had dropped out of school prior to graduating. Also, the Second Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) Annual Report 2010 indicates poor motivation and a high dropout rate among boys attending public schools.i Current data indicates that out of 100 male Emirati students commencing grade six in public schools, 32 percent graduate on time, 47 percent fail in the annual exams, and 21 percent drop out permanently. In Qatar, primary school dropout rates reached 4.9 percent in grade one, 5.5 percent in grade two (6.1 percent male, 5.0 percent female), and 3.2 percent in grade three (data for the school year ending in 2005).ii

Exhibit 8 Young People Are Concerned That They Are Not Prepared to Succeed in Their Careers


49% To some extent

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

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various reasons students leave school, one factor may well be their lack of interest and motivation. In order to drill down into youths’ discontent and discover the reasons for it, we asked survey participants to specify what was wrong with their education system. Sixty-three percent listed traditional methods of teaching (see Exhibit 9). The other top complaints were a lack of practical application, curricula that are not in line with the job market, a lack of training, and a lack of qualified teachers. It is worth elaborating on some of the areas of universal discontent among students. Traditional teaching methods in the GCC countries emphasize repetition

and memorization rather than skills highly valued in the modern workplace, such as creative thinking, brainstorming, problem solving, and personal initiative. In traditional teaching environments, teachers have a command-and-control function in the classroom; instead, they should be acting as facilitators, pointing the way for students to develop their sense of individual responsibility and find the information they need to solve the problems presented to them. Significantly, too, traditional teaching methods do not instill in youth an entrepreneurial spirit of healthy risk taking. This attitude is critical in any workplace, but inculcating youth with this spirit is especially important because, as we will discuss more in “Employment: Making the Most of the Youth Dividend” (p. 25), self-

employment will be a major part of meeting the job needs of today’s youth. Students who graduate with an understanding that taking risks is all right, even if the effort ends in failure, will not only be more creative employees and more in tune with the modern marketplace—they also will be more apt to start their own businesses, thus helping mitigate unemployment. Outmoded curricula and textbooks are another issue because they are not preparing students to succeed in rapidly changing societies that aspire to become knowledge-based economies in competitive global markets. Inadequate attention is given to math, science, and information technologies. For example, the International Association for

Exhibit 9 Young People Have a Number of Concerns About the Education System


Traditional methods of teaching Theoretical knowledge/Lack of practical application Curriculum not in line with job market Lack of training Lack of qualified teachers Outdated curriculum Don’t know/Can’t say Other 7% 7% 39%

63% 60% 58% 53% 52%

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey


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the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, which meaures students’ learning achievements in 50 countries, found in its 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) serious deficiencies in these subjects among GCC students, who failed to reach the advanced international benchmark on items involving complex topics and reasoning skills. In mathematics, the scores of 4th and 8th grade students from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain registered the lowest level (one out of a possible five); science results were similar. Qatar registered the lowest overall score of all countries; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman also had poor scores.5 Field of study is a related problem. The number of GCC university students in the fields of humanities, social sciences, and business is far greater than the number of those in science, engineering, and manufacturing.6 This is a disadvantage because as GCC countries push to become more diversified economies, young people will need the technical

and digital skills to master—and create—new technologies. Finally, vocational training is undervalued and underdeveloped in the Gulf region. Fifty-three percent of our surveyed youth were unhappy with their education because of a “lack of training.” If education systems are going to meet youths’ aspiration to be prepared for the workplace, vocational training clearly has to come into the mix in a much stronger way. At the moment, course offerings are limited and often not designed with a view toward meeting market demands. In addition, in most GCC countries, manual work as part of vocational training is still largely considered socially undesirable, better left to school dropouts, expatriates, and those from low-income backgrounds. Because of this societal bias against vocational training, most students prefer an academic education, believing that it will lead to a high-salaried position, usually in the public sector. But this choice leaves them without skills demanded by the market if a public-sector job does not materialize.

Vision for the Future of Education The GCC’s youth bulge presents a major education challenge to the region’s governments. They already have demonstrated their commitment to education through generous funding. But they need to examine why there is such dissatisfaction among students with the schooling they are receiving, and why their national education systems are failing to prepare young people to acquire productive, gainful employment or successfully compete in a global economy. In fact, GCC governments have begun to recognize the need for change and reorientation, and initiatives undertaken so far are laudable. We are mindful of Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030, a document that aims to establish a first-rate education system enabling all Bahrainis to fulfill their ambitions. It has a clear strategy for raising standards and performances in schools, vocational institutions, and universities. Oman’s Eighth Five-Year Development Plan (2011–15) focuses on the role of higher education in

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helping youth contribute to Oman’s development. Likewise, the Qatar National Vision 2030 presents a plan of action for an advanced education system providing students with a first-rate education and training opportunities. In particular, it encourages programs that foster analytical and critical thinking, creativity and innovation, and a curriculum responding to the needs of the labor market. And in Saudi Arabia, Tatweer, which is the King Abdullah Project for General Education Development, aims to develop the curriculum and improve teachers’ classroom performance, the learning environment, and extracurricular activities. Launched in 2007, Tatweer seeks to prepare students for a knowledge-based economy. The Ninth Development Plan (2010–14) calls for education programs that meet modern scientific and technological requirements, develop critical thinking and practical skills, and promote initiative and entrepreneurship. In addition, the UAE Government Strategy published in 2007 urges the

creation of a high-quality education meeting international standards that matches the needs of the workplace, strengthens scientific research, and promotes vocational education. These are serious beginnings, and the nature of education is such that it will take a generation to see their results. In the meantime, however, there is more that can be done. Our vision of a truly enhanced education experience for GCC youth requires a large-scale, society-wide effort that draws in parents, educators, NGOs, and particularly the private sector. We believe that this society-wide mobilization is necessary because, as we have noted, the problems facing GCC youth nowadays are interrelated—education has an impact on employment, leisure time, and community engagement. Solutions for these problems require the involvement of an entire society. One goal of this mobilization would be to change attitudes that are adversely affecting education and its sister issue, employment. The stigma associated with vocational training, for example, should be countered.

Also, young people’s clear preference for working in the public sector will need to change, so that they are increasingly drawn to business (particularly to establishing their own), medicine, science, and NGOs that serve society. The entrepreneurial spirit needs uplifting. One of the most urgent tasks, we believe, is to speed up the move away from traditional teaching methods. This requires massive programs to retrain and motivate teachers to embrace modern methods of pedagogy. We do not underestimate the huge investment of time and funding this will require. A modern economy stresses knowledge, computer literacy, collaboration, and creative problem solving—skills enhanced by access to modern information and communication technologies. Therefore, it is urgent to ensure that GCC schools have digitally rich learning environments with advanced ICT infrastructure; they should offer students access to laptops, the Internet, online classes, and the latest in collaborative technologies. The


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Our vision of a truly enhanced education experience for GCC youth requires a large-scale, society-wide effort that draws in parents, educators, NGOs, and particularly the private sector.

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classroom of the future requires high ICT literacy rates for both students and teachers. In our vision of the future of Gulf education, curricula would be revamped to emphasize science, technology, mathematics, and foreign languages. They would also include opportunities to develop skills relevant to the real world of work, such as skills in problem solving and researching information. Materials for classes would match the revised curricula. We suggest GCC countries pay urgent attention to upgrading and expanding vocational education in partnership with the private sector. The aim would be to link the two environments of classroom and workplace in a practical way so that

young people do not feel they are crossing into unknown terrain when they move from one to the other. The amplification of vocational training, however, should be just one of the goals of an intensified relationship between the education and business sectors. The heightened collaboration we envision would include contributions from the private sector in the form of summer jobs, internships, mentoring programs, and research and development (R&D) ventures that involve young people. And from public education systems, there would be more responsiveness to the needs of the labor market; young people would graduate with marketable skills and a capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Another goal in our ideal vision of education would be to give youths more guidance on potential careers from an early age, but especially in high school and tertiary education institutions. They could profit immensely from information about different careers, opening up horizons they might not otherwise have imagined. In an era of economic diversification, the private sector must lead the way in providing jobs for the millions of youth seeking to join the labor force. Education systems must therefore produce graduates who have the skills to succeed in the private sector. It is urgent, as our survey has confirmed, that these changes begin soon, or be accelerated where they have already been launched.


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Immediate Priorities
GCC stakeholders can take a number of concrete steps to achieve this vision, allowing GCC education systems to reach their fullest potential and ensure young people’s future as productive members of the global community. -- Revamp public education systems, including national vocational training programs, so they are more flexible and receptive to the needs of youth in the labor market. This revamping should be done in a high-profile, widely advertised partnership with chambers of commerce and industry leaders. -- Reform curricula, giving increased emphasis to science, technology, mathematics, foreign languages, and ICT at all grade levels. Classroom materials ought to match the curricula. Practical know-how should be a major part of all courses. -- Develop a national program to change attitudes toward vocational education in order to raise its profile as a valued path to employment. This national campaign should include visits to schools by vocational teachers; posters in school corridors; and advertisements on television, government websites, and YouTube, as well as in newspapers. -- Accelerate national programs that demonstrate modern teaching methods to retrain teachers and ease them into new attitudes regarding their role in the classroom as guides who encourage students to take personal initiative, solve problems, and ask questions. -- Encourage a culture of continuous education and lifelong learning, both formal and informal, using digital resources as well as traditional classroom settings. -- Create opportunities for young people who have dropped out of school or not completed their education for whatever reason to reenter the formal education system. -- Encourage the creation of local parent–teacher associations to get parents more involved in their children’s education. -- Create a private-sector education agenda, including a clear synopsis for governments, multilateral institutions, and other key players, that details the actions necessary to improve the private sector’s ability to finance and provide high-quality, employment-driven education. It should include plans for greater involvement of the private sector in governing bodies, advisory boards, and research boards, as well as inspection, accreditation, and auditing services. The private sector can also provide ICT equipment, student loans, scholarships, and extracurricular education opportunities such as science clubs and museums. -- Engage civil society, especially NGOs, nonprofits, and professional associations, to play a part in developing education and skills training programs for young people. Community-based training programs should be directed toward the identification of employment and income-generating activities at the local level and could offer vocational guidance, technical assistance, and labor market information.

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Work offers much more than a salary. It gives young people self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment, and the psychic reward of contributing to their society. Work is also the heartbeat of a nation’s economy, allowing it to thrive and expand. At this moment in history, the GCC’s large youth bulge—a cohort of ambitious workers—presents the region with an amazing opportunity for generating economic growth, diversifying its economy, and enhancing its human capital. But finding work for all these young people may be the region’s biggest hurdle to future development. Creating the hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be needed is a daunting undertaking. Failure means the loss of a unique occasion for the Gulf nations to elevate their economic and social development, and heightens the risk of possible future recriminations from members of a generation

who never had a chance to achieve economic stability and experience the self-worth that comes with satisfying work and careers. The Middle East currently has among the highest unemployment rates of any region in the world for people between the ages of 15 and 24; one out of four young people in the labor market is unemployed. This unemployment rate of 24.9 percent, as measured in 2009, is nearly double the global rate of 12.8 percent.7 GCC countries have not escaped this dire situation, despite their oil-based prosperity and high rates of economic growth. The strides they have made in enrolling youth in education have not been matched by rising rates of youth employment. Up-to-date statistics on youth unemployment are difficult to obtain, because not all GCC countries publish

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official figures on a regular basis. This makes it hard to know the precise extent of the problem. But according to the latest available official national data, unemployment rates among people age 15 to 24 between 2001 and 2009 were highest in Bahrain, 31 percent in 2001, followed by Saudi Arabia, 29.9 percent in 2009. Kuwait suffered 18.4 percent youth unemployment in 2005. In 2008, Qatar reported 7 percent unemployment among its youth. And the UAE indicated in 2005 that its youth unemployment rate was 8 percent. However, a labor force survey conducted in the UAE in 2009 revealed that the unemployment rate in the age group 15 to 19 reached 36.1 percent; among those age 20 to 24, it was 11.3 percent.8 In addition, according to official national data, young people have

made up a significant percentage of the total unemployed population during the past decade (2001–09); rates include 54.1 percent (2001) in Bahrain, 68.6 percent (2005) in Kuwait, 53 percent (2008) in Qatar, 45.5 percent (2009) in Saudi Arabia, and 33.4 percent (2005) in the UAE.9 To their credit, GCC governments are well aware of their unemployment problem and its ramifications. But successfully tackling it requires a speedier and more holistic commitment from all stakeholders—governments, the private sector, educators, and young people themselves—than the region has so far witnessed. Significantly, our recommendations for action in “Immediate Priorities” (p. 37) at the end of this section all pivot on the axis of greater cooperation and partnerships among these parties.

Survey Results: What Young People Think About Unemployment Unemployment looms as a huge worry for young people; 87 percent of our respondents described it as a major problem (see Exhibit 10). GCC youth feel that they are facing a number of difficulties in their quest for employment. When asked “In your opinion, what are the challenges that people encounter while looking for a job?” 58 percent noted the scarcity of jobs (see Exhibit 11). Low salaries were cited by 57 percent, and 49 percent said lack of previous experience. Given these concerns, we thought it important to learn what considerations young people are using in their search for work. So we asked them to rank certain criteria in order of importance, and their rankings offered some interesting


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Exhibit 10 GCC Youth Are Extremely Concerned About Unemployment






Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

Exhibit 11 Challenges to Finding a Job Are Structural and Personal


Very few jobs available Low salary Lack of previous job experience Job qualification requirements are high No opportunities matching one’s aspirations Lack of appropriate skills for chosen job Lack of career progression/growth Other Don’t know/Can’t say 7% 5% 24% 18% 34%

58% 57% 49% 46%

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

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Exhibit 12 GCC Youth Seek Well-paying, Satisfying Jobs


Good salary Job satisfaction Reputation of the organization Job stability Career expansion/success Skills development Independence of taking decisions Benefits offered (other than salary) 0% 12% 2% 2% 5% 6% 5% 9% 15% 12%

22% 18% 8% 22%



Rank 1 Rank 2

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

Exhibit 13 Young People Seek Creative Solutions to the Employment Problem


Develop youth service programs Promote youth entrepreneurship Create employment through microfinance Establish training programs linked with certain sectors Establish equal opportunities for men and women Partner with the private sector to identify high-demand skills Don’t know/Can’t say Other 5% 8% 38% 46% 43%

65% 62% 60%

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey


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insights. The number one consideration was a good salary (see Exhibit 12). The second most important criterion was job satisfaction, which was followed by the reputation of the organization and job stability. Respondents placed career growth and skills development after these other desirable characteristics in a job. These rankings suggest that GCC youth are highly motivated by a desire for financial security and perhaps independence. The rankings also reflect the impact on some GCC countries of an economic downturn that resulted from the global recession, which has no doubt intensified the fears of financial insecurity among many youth. Finally, our survey respondents felt that their governments had a role to play in mitigating unemployment. When asked “In your opinion, what can your country’s government do to expand economic opportunities for youth?” 65 percent said it should develop youth service programs, which would allow young people

opportunities to provide a service to their communities, such as first aid or recreational activities (see Exhibit 13). Sixty-two percent said the government should promote youth entrepreneurship, and 60 percent wanted it to create employment through microfinance programs that target low-income groups with small loans. These findings show that young people are conscious of the government’s role and have high expectations that the government will work to reduce unemployment. Significantly, only 38 percent said they believed the state should partner with the private sector to identify high-demand skills. This low figure points to a problem: Even youth do not give high priority to public–private partnerships in tackling youth unemployment. As we said earlier, we believe such partnerships are urgently needed. Opportunities for Improvement Our survey confirmed that GCC youth struggle to find suitable

employment and are anxious about their prospects. Their chances of finding employment are much lower than adults’ because of their lack of substantial work experience and lack of occupational skills required by potential employers. Young people are also more likely to quit their jobs voluntarily or be fired, and in difficult economic times, they are more vulnerable to being laid off than are adults who have longer work histories. Youth also may take longer to shop around for the right job, waiting for work that suits them. And because of limited financial resources, their job search is likely to be limited to the vicinity of the family home.10 But these observations should not obscure the reality that unacceptably high youth unemployment is caused by a number of interconnected issues that require society’s attention. Paramount is the poor preparation for the workplace given to youth by

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their education systems, which do not teach the skills demanded by today’s modern labor market, as we discussed earlier in this report. Other reasons for high youth unemployment have their roots in the Gulf’s recent economic history. A sharp drop in oil revenues in the second half of the 1980s led to a relative decrease in employment growth. At the same time, technological innovations introduced changes in

production processes and in the skills needed for all sectors of the economy. However, the GCC region found it difficult to adapt to the new requirements of a global economy that puts high value on change and innovation. Although GCC countries liberalized their economies to some extent, more needed to be done. Meanwhile, the public sector emerged as the dominant employer of nationals, but was eventually unable to employ

all those seeking work. As a result, the labor market became stagnant with unskilled workers, and unemployment rose.11 GCC countries came to depend on foreign laborers to fill jobs, especially in building their national infrastructure (see Exhibit 14). This trend, which began more than 40 years ago, contributed to the GCC’s industrial development. But today, dependency on foreign labor and the sponsorship system that undergirds

Exhibit 14 The Majority of Each GCC Country’s Workforce Consists of Foreigners

FOREIGN LABOR FORCE AS A PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL LABOR FORCE IN GCC COUNTRIES 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 UAE (2007) Kuwait (2007) Bahrain (2008) Oman (2008) Qatar (2007) Saudi Arabia (2009)

91.6% 82.2% 75.8% 74.5% 62.3% 50.2%

Source: Arab Labor Organization, Official National Statistics on Employment, Youth, Migration & Human Development in Arab Countries, 2010, Table 14: p. 24; Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), 46th annual report, 2010


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GCC governments have found themselves carrying a very large share of the employment burden.

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it are major obstacles to overcoming the youth unemployment problem. In the absence of a mandatory minimum wage, foreigners are willing to work for lower salaries and fewer benefits than nationals. This reduces work opportunities for nationals, especially youth. It also fosters a preference for foreign laborers in the private sector, which naturally is alert to the bottom line. Government efforts to wean businesses off foreign workers and to encourage—or require—them to employ more nationals have met with limited success. GCC nations’ use of foreign labor is just one factor contributing to youth unemployment. Another is GCC youth’s strong preference for work in the public sector, even though it

is already saturated with employees. This preference, which stems from the job security, good wages, and substantial benefits that accompany a government job, deters many youth from seeking private-sector work. GCC governments have done little to alter this bias or address the disparity between public- and private-sector salaries. As a result, they have found themselves carrying a very large share of the employment burden. In addition, there is an absence of effective public and private employment agencies and programs to match young job-seekers with prospective employers. As one report on Middle East youth unemployment observed, “Many young people complain that they would be willing to work if they

knew where to find a job. At the same time, many enterprises complain that they cannot find young people who are willing to work.”12 Another obstacle is the absence of a tradition of part-time work during school vacations, as well as a lack of internships and mentoring programs offered by the private sector. As our survey revealed, almost half the respondents (49 percent) listed lack of previous work experience as a top challenge in job hunting. This deficit could be fixed if young people had opportunities to get on-the-job training through part-time work. Among our survey respondents, only 41 percent said they had ever held a temporary job or internship during


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summer vacation while they were at university. Exploring why the rest had not done so, we discovered that youth are not conditioned to see such experiences as part of their job preparation. Forty-five percent said they had not worked part-time because they traveled during vacations; 31 percent said they preferred resting/relaxing at home, and 26 percent said they felt they were not ready for work. Only 19

percent cited the lack of good opportunities to work (see Exhibit 15). These findings suggest that GCC youth need to adjust their attitude so that they see part-time work as valuable, necessary training. Our research has found that employers complain about the lack of a work ethic among youth—something that can be learned early through part-time jobs.

An additional concern for policymakers is the voluntarily unemployed or inactive youth. In 2009, the worldwide youth inactivity rate reached 49 percent, and the highest rate—63.6 percent—was in the Middle East. In the GCC, according to International Labour Organization data for 2009, Saudi Arabia had the highest youth inactivity rate in the region, 71.1

Exhibit 15 The Majority of Survey Respondents Did Not Work During Summer Vacations



I traveled during my summer vacations I preferred resting/relaxing at home I felt I was not ready for work 31% 26% 19% 18% 17% 16%






Not many good internships/job offers available Other Parents did not allow me to work Salaries offered were very low

Source: Booz & Company Youth Survey

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percent, and Qatar had the lowest, 36 percent (see Exhibit 16).13 The voluntarily unemployed includes youth who are not actively seeking work because they are getting an education, or are sick or disabled. But the GCC’s high rate of youth inactivity is also explained by the fact that many young women are not actively seeking a job, either because

they are mothers taking care of children, or because social constraints preclude their search for work. Since some men do not allow their wives, daughters, or sisters to work in mixed-gender environments, job opportunities for women are limited, leading to a significant number of “inactive” young women disengaged from the labor force. We discuss gender discrimination in the GCC’s

patriarchal societies as it relates to youth unemployment at greater length in “Youth and Gender in the GCC: Narrowing the Gap” (p. 39). Other youth who co