Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Comparing Arab and Western Youth

A fascinating study published by Burson-Marsteller, a world reknowned public relations firm, examined cross-cultural views and attitudes by comparing Arab and Western youth ages 18-24. The results were interesting and enlightening and highlight both the differences and similarities of young men and women in a variety of aspects. The study took place in September of 2008, surveying and interviewing some 1500 youth in these six Middle Eastern countries: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan. Only 300 youth from the West (100 each from USA, United Kingdom, and Germany) were surveyed for comparison in this study. Topics of research included Culture and Religion, National Identity, Lifestyle, Technology, and Globalisation. For more specifics about the study's criteria, click here.



The following list contains some of the key findings of the study taken directly from their website:

1. Western youth are generally pessimistic about the future, while Middle East youth are optimistic: Just 34% of Western youth feel that things in their country are heading in the right direction. In the Middle East, youth are considerably more optimistic, with 52% arguing that their country is heading in the right direction.

2. Religion is enormously important to Middle East youth, especially when compared to their Western peers: Some 68% of Middle East youth say that religion defines them as a person, compared to just 16% in the West. Asked to name an influence on them and their outlook on life, 62% of Middle East youth listed religion, compared to just 38% of their Western peers.

3. National identity and traditional values are extremely important to Arab youth, but not for their peers in the West: 9% of Arab youth say that the loss of traditional values and culture is the greatest challenge facing the world today, a sentiment a statistically insignificant percentage of their Western peers agree with. Likewise, Arab youth generally very strongly agree that their national identity is very important to them, while Western youth view the same as only moderately important.

4. Arab youth generally admire political, religious and business leaders, while Western youth do not: Asked whom they look up to, 30% of Arab youth cited government leaders, compared to just 9% of their Western peers. Likewise, while just 5% of Western youth said they looked up to religious leaders, 31% Middle East youth claimed admiration for the same group. In the economic space, 29% of Arab youth look up to business leaders, a sentiment shared by only 5% of youth in the West.

5. Family and friends are equally important to Middle East and Western youth: Precisely 64% of Arab and Western youth say that their family defines who they are as a person, with both groups citing family as one of the most important factors in this area. The two also agree that friends are among the key determinants in defining their identity, with concurrence from 57% of Western youth and 61% of their Arab peers.

6. Arab youth want to make a difference, while Western youth mostly just want to get ahead: 11% of Arab youth say success means being enlightened spiritually and 34% say it is making the world a better place – compared to 5% and 12%, respectively, in the West.

7. Arab and Western male youth have very different opinions about gender equality in the workplace: 79% of Western male youth believe that men and women should have equal opportunities in the workplace, while just 58% of their male counterparts in the Middle East agree. In striking contrast to the attitudes of their male peers, 73% of female Arab youth feel that they should have equal opportunities for professional advancement.

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 spend the majority of their disposable incomes on going out and shopping for clothes/shoes. Both groups constantly worry about their appearance.

9. Global brands have transnational appeal among Middle East and Western youth: Despite some differences, young people view many brands with similar levels of warmth. The top brands for young people in the Middle East include Nokia, Sony, Toyota and Toshiba – all of which have similarly high favourability levels for the West.

10. Europe is the top desired travel destination for both Arab and Western youth: 74% of Western youth and 49% of Arab youth would be interested in travelling to Europe in the future. Both groups would also be interested in travelling to North Africa – including 35% of Western youth and 21% of their Arab peers.


Here's a presentation that further highlights more specific details about some of the study's key findings.

And here's a Press Release about the study and its findings.

33 comments:

  1. Good share Susie, this is a great and interesting post.

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  2. hello ms sussie..Indeed a very fascinating study about the arab youth and the western youth of todays generation...

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  3. I see they are both impressed with the typical teenage stuff, clothes and Japanese technology. I was impressed with the girls answering that they wanted more equality. I am glad they spoke up.

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  4. Thank you again for sharing Susie, I really enjoyed the side by side comparisons and I really wish at times that our Western desire was to make a difference and not to get ahead, maybe life would be more peaceful if this was our choice.

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  5. Very interesting study, thanks! I didn't find anything surprising in it, but it is soooooo nice to be able to cite that statistic about importance of family to the next inlaw/ new immigrant who tells me Westerners have NO sense of family, and that they know better than I do, even though I spend hours listening to people's concerns about their family relationships! Thanks again.

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  6. Interesting post. I don't agree with this one:
    6. Arab youth want to make a difference, while Western youth mostly just want to get ahead: 11% of Arab youth say success means being enlightened spiritually and 34% say it is making the world a better place – compared to 5% and 12%, respectively, in the West.

    I can't help thinking it's to do with the phrasing of the question. Most studies show Western youth are quite idealistic and want to make the world a better place, just like their Arab counterparts. But Westerners don't tend to associate the word "success" with these sort of aspirations. If you asked what is important in life you'd likely get very different answers compared with if you asked about the meaning of success.

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  7. Hi Qusay & MightDacz - I'm glad you enjoyed it. I thought it was extremely interesting and I was happy to share it.

    Hi Yoli - Me too! But I find it discouraging that while women will just want to be treated fairly and equally, many men will always think otherwise.

    Hi Suzanne - I agree, but I think Caitlin's comment may in fact have a valid point. Many times the words used in surveys like this culturally carry different meanings - the young people I know all tend to be idealistic and want to change the world for the better.

    Hi Chiara - To assume that Westerners have no sense of family is such a sad misconception. Glad you have some ammo now!

    Hi Caitlin - Thanks so much for bringing up this point and I think you are absolutely right. Many times when I have answered questionnaires in the past, I get stuck on a word that doesn't quite seem to fit my idea of what it being asked. Great point.

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  8. PizzaHut, Nokia, H&M, IKEA...
    soon the world looks the same where ever you go.
    That saves nature - we can stay where we are!

    Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Interesting. Like Chiara--I was not shocked. :) I do find it interesting that more Western youth would want to travel to NA compared to their Arab counterparts.

    anthrogeek10

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  10. What I find MOST interesting about this survey is that SO many youth were questioned from the Arab world, and so very few from the entire Western world! I'm not sure if that makes a difference to the outcome or not -- but I would think it might... on some things.

    I'm not surprised about the East respecting religious leaders more than the West -- I know that in American's in general pay a LOT more attention to athletes and entertainers than to religion! In that, our society is very backward in our priorities!

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  11. To Melli - I'm not sure why they only interviewed 300 Westerners for this survey either, compared to so many from the Middle Eastern countries. But on one page of the report it did say "The data has been weighted so that the West
    comprises 50% of the sample and the Middle East comprises 50%." I think it would have been better for them to have an equal number of survey participants from both sides.

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  12. It commonly happens in such research that they are unable to find suffient numbers in one group, and look for other plausible statistical solutions. It isn't ideal but it isn't uncommon, and certainly occurs as an after the fact phenomenon rather than planned for.

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  13. Fascinating survey. Although I do wonder what effects it did have with having fewer Western youths even if they did comprise 50% of the sample.

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  14. Thanks for that Susie. I found it very interesting. I am curious how they can 'weigh' things differently.

    I can also see that the numbers of Western teens wanting to change the world could be smaller perhaps because less of them are as connected on a daily basis with basic backwarness in need of change as the Arab youth are? I'd be interested in knowing the changes they wanted to make.

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  15. While the results are interesting, the disparity between the sample sizes, 1500 for Arab, 300 for Western, calls into question the validity of the findings. Any reputable polling or statistical agency should know this. When you artificially weight data, you open the door to all sorts of issues.

    You're right. The more responsible thing to do would have been to have equal polling samples.

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  16. @Melli That's a good point - I didn't notice that myself.

    @Chiara That's true, but I don't think finding a good size sample of "Western youth" (however you define that) would be terribly difficult.

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  17. Caitlin--it may be realistically or artificially difficult. They may not have easy access to a large group of adolescents eg a high school that agrees to have their students tested; late IRB (bioethics approval) for the study in the US, grant DEADline, etc.
    I haven't had a chance to see if the 2 cohorts were matched for other aspects which could skew as well, but I will do. For sure, this is less than ideal, but it is a start, and it may well be that a larger or more diverse sample size would have given different results for the American teens esp on the altruism aspect.

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  18. I am sure the survey is ok by itself but some of the conclusions are so subjective as to be nonsensical without a lot of probling quesions. One third of the Westerners were German. So, one can imagine asking a question about what defines them as a person. Do you think an idealistic young German is going to want to be seen as nationalistic? I would certainly be curious if young Europeans think of a united Europe as some kind of ideal. If the survey asked that question, I don't see it.

    The success question is a real mess and the survey over interprets it.

    If this is what passes for opinion surveys today I will go back and read about President Dewey (I'm sorry it was Truman who won that election).

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  19. Another thing that I would be interested in seeing is for the poll to include Muslim teens living in the west. Perhaps just compare the Muslims teens from these ME countries with Muslim teens in the West?

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  20. This surprises me on several counts.

    (1) B-M is certainly a well-respected international agency and, in fact, I've worked with a few of their people in the past. So in view of their international presence, how is it they could only come up with 300 Westerners?

    (2) Item 7 where "just" 58% of ME males are in favor of gender equality seems way out of whack (on the upside) and causes me to have some doubts about the entire study. In a world where practically no women work, and when they do it's almost strictly in teaching and health care, I wonder whether the true ME male number isn't more like 10 or 15%. I realize Saudis are only one element in the ME mix, but it's not like UAE is a hotbed of gender equality either.

    (3)Re #8 "similar activities" of lifestyle? When's the last time you saw Saudi youth catching a movie at the cineplex, buying tour t-shirts at a rock concert, sneaking off to a rave or just cruising a mall to check out chicks and dudes? I suppose if you define the lifestyle categories broadly enough -- "going out," and "shopping," (and then add "texting" and "worrying about their hair") -- you could come up with "similar activities" between the West and Middle East. But that puts some serious damage to common sense.

    In short, I'm not impressed with the study.

    Thank you Susie for bringing this to our attention.

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  21. I love comparative surveys and despite the flaws mentioned by some of your readers, I did find it interesting and perhaps worrisome that optimism about the future and feeling a closeness to religion seem so closely interrelated. Great post. It does worry me that today's Western youth don't seem as "optimistic" about the future though. We need more positive energy from the young.

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  22. Saudi kids are cruising the malls to checking people out ALL THE TIME. Outside Saudi- they go to rock concerts, movies, ice skating as well. They have movies in Bahrain- just drive accross the bridge! All kinds of concerts and movies in Dubai- it's right next door!

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  23. @Sandy, and all Saudi youth go to Bahrein whenever they get the chance to also see moves, and drink alcohol.

    I also have my doubt about either the study, or the truthfullness of the participants. Especially more than 50% of the middle eastern guys think women should have equal opportinities????
    Don't make me laugh!

    Or maybe they meant ''Women should have equal opportunities as men, EXCEPT their: mothers sisters nieces and cousins and daughters and grandaughters''
    That I would believe.

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  24. It may be true that they drink in Bahrain- but they drink plenty in Saudi as well. Probably like their western counterparts.

    If the numbers are true-about those who believe in equal rights etc. I'm guessing the sample was tilted to those kids who have grown up exposure to the outside through travel and education. This younger, more priveledged, better educated crowd is far more progressive than the average youth.

    I've met many young men who seem to very much believe in equality here- but they are from that background.

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  25. It may be true that they drink in Bahrain- but they drink plenty in Saudi as well. Probably like their western counterparts.

    If the numbers are true-about those who believe in equal rights etc. I'm guessing the sample was tilted to those kids who have grown up exposure to the outside through travel and education. This younger, more priveledged, better educated crowd is far more progressive than the average youth.

    I've met many young men who seem to very much believe in equality here- but they are from that background.

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  26. As often is the case, your post is an interesting one. Your efforts to build bridges are to be commended and I am fan for this reason. this survey, however, is not valid. The 300 to 1500 ratio has already been mentioned, but I've lived in the Gulf for going on seven years and a couple of other things come to mind as a result.

    First - the term "Arab"
    My wife is Palestinian, raised in Qatar, who studied in Amman, with a Jordanian passport. She often says there is such a disparity in everything from dailect to daily life, and one cannot group Arabs together. The biggest division of course is the Bilad Al Sham Arabs (Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Syria and parts of Egypt) and the Gulf Arabs (UAE, Oman, Saudi, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrian). In some ways, its like two different worlds. The North African Arabs offer unique world views and opnions as well, and even more so when they are split East (Morocco, Algeria etc) and West (Somalia, Sudan etc)

    Second - habitual indoctrination and knee-jerk replication.
    Due to these cultural stalwarts (and yes teh West has there own too) answers are often are based on what should be said, rather than what is real. (lack of tolerance for crticism in terms of religion of politics for example, has ripple effect the answer to many questions) I work in the feild in feild of education and when reading essays and reports on politics and religion, it is amazing just how many responses are neary excatly the same.

    The Survey, in this sense, still reveals volumes, but not at first glance....

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  27. Thanks for all the interesting and thoughtful comments.
    I actually rolled my eyes and scoffed when I saw the unexpectedly high (58%) number of Arab youth responding that they believe in gender equality in the workplace.
    I agree that the survey would have carried much more weight had the Western sample been equal to that of the Arab sampling, and I doubt that there would have been much difficulty in locating willing particpants from the West.

    I also agree with Jerry's point about the Western sample being skewed - since the survey sampled several different Arab countries, an equally mixed sampling from the Western participants would have made the survey more credible.

    And to David - Your points are well taken. My husband (also an educator) had told me the same things about how Arabs might answer according to what they think is the right answer instead of their true opinions or feelings. I think the survey would have been more accurate and revealing if each country's results had been presented separately instead of lumping them together into two groups.

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  28. First time reading your post - only saw from your profile that you took your son. There were some very good points for the arab youths. Do you consider your son western or arab?

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  29. First time reading your post - only saw from your profile that you took your son. There were some very good points for the arab youths. Do you consider your son western or arab?

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  30. I consider my son both Western and Arab, however he himself feels much more American than Arab. He came to KSA at 14yrs.

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  31. Hi Susie!! I'm so far behind on my blogging, but I loved hearing from you the other day and your sweet comments....I would find it facinating to 'go on a walk' with you and your son and see what you see!!! Thank you for sharing my walk - you're welcome to come with me anytime! Miss you and love you!
    xoxo
    Carol

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  32. Hey susie
    I would like to know are there any good english schools in jeddah? Where does your son study? I am very interested as I might move to jeddah and I need to know if there is any good schools for my kids

    Thanks

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  33. To Lilly - The most logical choices for your kids would be the international schools - there are American, British, etc., based on whatever country's curriculum you come from. Tuition is pricey, so if your are coming here because of your husband's work, try to negotiate some compensation into his contract for the kids' schooling.

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