Comparing Arab and Western young peopleWritten by Dan Johnson | | email@example.com
I’ve spent the greater part of my life with college students. It has been a wonderful experience as well as a privilege and honor. Watching young people is like looking through a window into the future. In many respects, our youth are our “fortune tellers.” If you are interested in the future, study young people. If we can understand their values and what motivates them, it will give us a pretty reliable glimpse into the way things will be in 20 or 30 years.
Such a glimpse was provided a few days ago in the release of an important study of Arab and Western youth. The study, carried out by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates Inc. and The Nielsen Company, attempted to gain an understanding of the attitudes of youth in the Middle East (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar) and compare them with their peers in the West (United States, United Kingdom and Germany). I found the results fascinating and wanted to share them with you.
In all, 1,800 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were interviewed. In addition to numerous similarities between Arab and Western youth, the study also found strikingly divergent hopes, fears and aspirations. As a demographer, one of the most important factors for me was the different age structures in the Arab and Western populations. One in five persons in the Middle East is between the ages of 15 and 24, while in America, one in five persons will be 65 or older by 2010. Clearly, Arab populations are much younger than those in the West. This demographic fact alone has strong near and long-term implications for our respective countries and cultures.
The study revealed several important findings. The following are a few taken from the report:
1. Western youth are generally pessimistic about the future, while Middle Eastern youth are generally optimistic. Illustrative of these different outlooks were the responses on how things in their countries of residence were going. Just 34 percent of Western youth feel that “things in their country are heading in the right direction” compared to 52 percent of Middle Eastern youth.
2. Religion is “enormously important” to Middle Eastern youth when compared to their Western peers. More than two thirds (68 percent) of the Arab youth say that “religion defines them as a person,” while only 16 percent of Western youth find this kind of strength in their religion.
3. National identity and traditional values are extremely important to Arab youth, but not to their peers in the West. For Arab young people, “loss of traditional values and culture” was identified as one of the top three biggest challenges facing the world today, along with rising cost of living and corruption in government. Young Westerners cited the economy, rising cost of living and climate change as the biggest challenges facing the world today.
4. Arab youth generally admire political, religious and business leaders, while Western youth do not. When asked who they look up to, 30 percent of Arab youth cited government leaders compared to just 9 percent of their Western peers. Thirty one percent of Arab youth claimed admiration for religious leaders compared to just 5 percent of Western youth. Similar differences were found regarding business leaders.
5. Arab youth want to “make a difference,” while Western youth mostly want to “get ahead.” When asked how they defined success, 34 percent of Arab youth said, “making the world a better place” compared to 12 percent or Western youth.
6. Family and friends are equally important to Middle Eastern and Western youth. Exactly 64 percent of each group say that their family defines who they are as a person. Both similarly agree that friends are among key determinants in defining their identity.
7. Middle East and Western male youths have very different opinions about gender equality in the workplace. Nearly 8 in 10 Western males say men and women should have equal opportunities in the workplace compared to less than 6 in 10 Middle East males. The vast majority of females in the Middle East and West support equal opportunities, although Western females are somewhat more supportive than their Arab counterparts.
8. Consumer and lifestyle habits of Arab and Western youth are strikingly similar. Young people in the West and Middle East indulge in similar activities, use similar technologies and have similar lifestyle habits. Both worry about their appearance and both spend the majority of their disposable incomes on going out and shopping for clothes and shoes.
9. Not surprising was the finding that global brands have transnational appeal among Middle Eastern and Western youth. Brands like Sony, iPod, Toyota, Nike, Nokia, Toshiba, McDonald’s and Ford are viewed favorably by both Arab and Western young people.
10. Europe is the top desired travel destination for both Arab and Western youth.
Studies such as this are very important as we work to build bridges between the Middle East and West. Mutual understanding of the values, interests, habits and lifestyles in our respective cultures and nations will help contribute to our efforts to work together constructively and to collaborate on global issues.
In my short time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I have been impressed by the university students — male and female — and their motivation to prepare for positions that will enable them to help lead their communities and new country. They aspire to be “global leaders” and to make a difference. Like students everywhere, they may not fully appreciate the tough road ahead, but their idealism is inspiring and contagious. `
I want to acknowledge the research conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates Inc. and The Nielsen Company. Information for this column came from a Nov. 11 Burson-Marsteller news release.
Dan Johnson is president emeritus of the University of Toledo and is currently serving as provost and chief operations officer of Zayed University in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He can be contacted at Dan.firstname.lastname@example.org.