Landmark survey reveals hopes and fears of Emirati youth

The Emirates Foundation polled 6,600 Emiratis across the UAE between the ages of 15 and 30

A quarter of Emirati youngsters believe 20 is the most suitable age for a woman to get married, a major survey has found.

The new research also revealed 35 per cent of those polled believe the best age for a man to tie the knot is 25.

The striking results are part of a “national survey of youth well-being and development” – one of the most comprehensive and thought-provoking glimpses into the hopes and dreams of young Emiratis to date.

Its findings were released on Monday by the Emirates Foundation – a philanthropic entity set up by the Abu Dhabi Government.

Maytha Al Habsi, chief executive of the Emirates Foundation, said the notion of marrying young was to be expected given the background of UAE tradition.

“Culturally women used to marry early so probably some people are still influenced by this," she said. "This is possibly [more pronounced] in certain areas [of the UAE] too."

The Emirates Foundation polled a total of 6,600 Emiratis across the country between the ages of 15 and 30.

Researchers visited 13,000 families and asked 1,700 questions across 14 subject areas, including health, education, work, marriage, the environment and safety.

Marriage was one of the central parts of the study. It found the main reason people thought twice about marriage was the high cost of a dowry – the money paid by a groom to his bride as a gift which can run into tens of thousands of dirhams.

Twenty two per cent of those surveyed agreed on this, with high living costs and difficulty finding housing with reasonable rents among the other issues delaying marriage.

Reports from the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi have shown Emirati women are now marrying much later – well into their 20s – but Ms Al Habsi said the opinions expressed in the survey must be taken seriously.

“If you look at statistics, they probably get married a little later now," she said. "But these are opinions and we respect their opinions.”

Most of the survey's findings – which took two years to complete and included an equal number of male and female respondents – are not available to the public or the media and will be used to inform government initiatives.

But a brief insight into its results showed an engaged and committed Emirati youth, determined to seize on opportunities offered by the Emirates.

Eschewing the often-repeated analysis that Emiratis only care about the public sector, at least 55 per cent said they now have ambitions to become an entrepreneur.

But many pointed to the difficulty in securing finance as a major challenge – with 33 per cent claiming that tying to find money to fund a new business was a barrier to young innovators.

The survey also noted a surge in popularity for volunteering. A staggering 90 per cent of youngsters said they believed volunteering was, in some way, important to boost sustainable development.

If you look at statistics, they probably get married a little later [than 20] now. But these are opinions and we respect their opinions

Yet close to half – 43 per cent – also said they did not have enough spare time to do so. Close to 10 per cent claimed that a lack of encouragement prevented them from volunteering.

Turning to health and fitness, at least a fifth of Emirati youth – 19.6 per cent – said they felt anxious or under pressure at times. But 90 per cent said they walked regularly or went to the gym to improve their well-being.

“This survey is huge. It is massive,” said Ms Al Habsi. “You can dig into each category and analyse by age or emirate or marital status or education.”

It is envisaged the data will be used to guide the public and private sectors into how they should best invest their money.

For example, the survey's findings on high rent could potentially lead to more housing units being built in areas where respondents raised the issue.

“We can say invest in this emirate because statistics show the need is there rather than somewhere else that is covered by the government," Ms Al Habsi said.

Also on Monday, a deal was signed between the UAE and the United Nations volunteer programme. It is hoped the agreement will lead to more Emiratis and foreigners serving in an initiative which allows participants to work around the world to promote peace and development.