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Brookings: Taking Stock of the Youth Challenge in the Middle East: New Data and New Questions

Authors: Samantha Constant, Associate Director, Global Economy and Development, Wolfensohn Center for Development, Middle East Youth Initiative, and Mary Kraetsch, Research Analyst, Global Economy and Development, Wolfensohn Center for Development, Middle East Youth Initiative
June 2010


The Middle East is at a demographic turning point. Many countries in the region are reaching the peak of their ‘youth bulges,' meaning that the share of young people in the country's total population will soon begin to decrease. At the same time, young people in the region continue to represent a high proportion of the total population with persisting challenges of high unemployment and increasingly underemployment. According to estimates from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the League of Arab States, the region's economies will need to create around 51 million jobs by 2020 to meet the demand of the total unemployed and those entering the work force. A significant proportion of these jobs are needed for currently unemployed youth and new youth labor force entrants during the next decade.

Indeed, youth-inclusive development remains as important as ever in the region. What lessons can be learned from countries where the youth bulge has peaked and how can these lessons be shared across borders to better support the region's next generation? How can countries adopt best practices and institutional models to more effectively support young people's transition from school to work and their transition to marriage and family formation? Answers to these questions are critical for understanding and initiating any policies and programs aimed at addressing the Middle East's long-term development trajectory.

Using available data, we have collected key statistics related to the general economic and demographic conditions of each country in the region as well as statistics on the education and employment status of youth. However, for some countries there are gaps in the available data, and for other countries the available data is somewhat outdated. Additional surveys and data collection – and the regular publication of existing data by government agencies and research institutes in the region – will be invaluable for researchers seeking to examine the root causes of youth development gaps and for those who are, in turn, seeking to devise knowledge-based policy and program solutions that can better address those gaps.

In this note, we provide an overview of the data and our main findings. The accompanying interactive map and fact sheets provide key statistics associated with youth issues for all 18 countries in the Middle East.

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