Interdependence of Youth Transitions in the Middle East

January 22, 2008

Djavad Salehi-Isfahani outlines the major issues facing youth in the Middle East and why pro-youth policies would benefit everyone.


“I think what makes the youth issue fascinating is the multifaceted nature of their [the youth] experience. They are going through several transitions at the same time: they are growing up; they are going to become independent from their parents, as all youth must; they have to find a job; they have to find a spouse, get married, find a place to live, set up an independent family unit.

“These transitions, as you can see, touch on education – what have you learned? Were you able to get a job? What kind of a labor market is out there? Who’s looking to employ you? Are there small firms, large firms? Is government your main destination, your main hope of finding a good job?

“Social institutions that govern marriage: how do people meet? What is the role of their parents? What kind of financial commitments do you need in order to become eligible to marry someone? Credit markets are very important, because how do you signal that you are eligible for marriage if you do not have a house? Of course, a typical young person is not supposed to have a house.

“Now, in this country, you can go convince a banker that you are good, that you have prospects. And if the bank is willing to lend you money, then that is a stamp of approval on your future that you can take to the ‘marriage market,’ as economists would say. This interdependence between these aspects of youth lives I think is very important, both in understanding their problem and also in trying to fix it.

“What is really heartbreaking when you go visit any number of the capitals in the Middle East, you see young people who work very, very hard throughout their school years; they work harder than their counterparts in this country, maybe twice as hard – hours of study at home are taken very, very seriously, a bit like in East Asia. The difference being – with East Asia – that when they [Middle East youth] graduate, they have to wait. So it is, ‘Hurry up, hurry up, and wait,’ as they say. And the level of disappointment, having worked so hard, not being able to find a job, much less be snatched up by an employer who wants you…is this feeling of really being unwanted.

“In development literature we talk about the demographic window of opportunity, and I like to think of it also as a window of opportunity for reform. So we can implement important reforms that not only benefit youth, but also benefit everyone. Because, pro-youth policy is also pro-growth- and pro-development.”