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The United Arab Emirates at 40: A Success Story

The United Arab Emirates at 40: A Success Story

As the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) approaches this December, several things about the country stand out. One is the high percentage of people there who are thriving, meaning they rate their current and future lives highly on a 0-to-10 ladder scale based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale.[1] Fifty-seven percent of the population qualifies as thriving, including 64% of Emiratis and 52% of non-nationals.[2] These percentages are greater than the percentages who are thriving elsewhere in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)[3] or in other high-income countries[4], and are many times greater than the percentages who are thriving in the rest of the countries in the Arab League.[5]

The high percentage of people thriving in the UAE clearly owes something to the resources the government has invested in the services that people see and use in their daily lives.

Public Transportation Is Rated Better, as Are Roads and Highways

Residents in the UAE express much greater satisfaction with the transportation infrastructure in the country now than in previous years. Eighty-four percent currently say they are satisfied with public transportation systems in the country, versus 54% who said this in 2009. UAE residents also see improvement in the country's roads and highways, with 90% now saying they are satisfied with the roads and highways in the cities and areas where they live, versus 66% in 2009. Satisfaction levels with roads and highway systems are highest in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but have risen everywhere in the UAE.

These improved ratings follow several major UAE investments in transportation services and infrastructure. Abu Dhabi has introduced a new fleet of buses in the last few years that residents can use for 1 dirham per ride (the equivalent of 27 cents in U.S. currency), and it has begun modernizing its bus scheduling system. The city introduced a new taxi fleet in 2007, which includes about 7,000 sleek, modern vehicles, and it is also building an environmentally friendly public transportation network that will include a metro train system, three personal rapid transit systems - small cars that move along fixed guideways - and a ferry link with Dubai. Dubai's metro system is partially complete with one of two planned lines in operation since 2009. There have also been some highly visible road improvement projects, including Dubai's building of a double-decker road to ease traffic near the Dubai Mall and the widening of the Al Ittihad Road between Dubai and Sharjah, a stretch notorious for its traffic congestion.

These infrastructure improvements - and the difference they seem to have made in residents' perception of the country - come at a time of rapid population growth. More than 8 million people now live in the UAE, according to estimates by the National Bureau of Statistics, with the vast majority being temporary residents and immigrants. This represents a population growth of 65% in the past four years. Reliable and advanced transportation systems may not be imperative for the millions of blue collar workers who come to the UAE in search of jobs, but such a benefit may attract highly skilled overseas workers.

High Marks for Healthcare; Growing Satisfaction With Environmental Policies

The UAE also receives high rankings in other areas that determine how satisfied people feel with their lives. For instance, 89% of people in the UAE say they are satisfied with their health, with 14% of people self-reporting health problems. Moreover, 80% of people living in the UAE are satisfied with the availability of quality healthcare, with Emiratis being satisfied in slightly higher numbers (85%) than non-Emiratis (75%). The UAE pays for its citizens to seek medical care in foreign countries - a benefit not offered to non-citizens.

From residents' perspective, the UAE does a good job with regard to the environment. The UAE is an extremely heavy user of natural resources, with one of the highest rates of per-capita energy and water consumption in the world. However, some high-profile efforts - including the installation of 7,000 recycling bins in Abu Dhabi and the plans for Masdar City, which will use only renewable energy sources - have made an impression. Eighty-seven percent of people in the UAE are satisfied with the country's efforts to preserve the environment.

The high ratings regarding the environment reflect sizable gains in satisfaction levels in two particular areas. The first is air quality, which has been an issue in the UAE because of naturally occurring dust storms as well as man-made sources of pollution like vehicle emissions. Air pollution has been more closely monitored and controlled in recent years. Eighty-seven percent of people in the UAE are now satisfied with the country's air quality, compared with 73% in 2009. A second environmental target, water quality, is now seen as satisfactory by 83% of people in the country, up from 73% in 2009. UAE residents are among the heaviest consumers of water in the world, to a degree that defies the country's desert climate. In most cases, UAE residents use desalinized seawater provided to them by the government at subsidized prices. Their consumption of bottled water is the highest in the world.

UAE Residents Increasingly Satisfied With Cities and Towns Where They Live

Quality-of-life advantages certainly contribute to the high well-being reported by most people in the country. Ninety-two percent of UAE residents say they are satisfied with the city or area where they live, compared with an already high 89% who said this in 2009. Between the beginning of 2009 and April of this year, the percentage of people saying they were likely to move away from the area where they currently live fell to 15% from 23%. Women are even less apt than men to say they are likely to move.

UAE Residents Less Likely to Move Away From Their Current Area

The feeling of safety and security among UAE residents is pervasive and may also contribute to residents' high well-being. The country is a very safe place to live and crime is rare, with 95% of the total population saying they have not had money or property stolen from them in the last 12 months. In November 2010, 90% of people in the UAE said they felt safe walking alone at night. Men (93%) were marginally more likely than women (85%) to feel this way.

A Broadband Population
People in the UAE are highly connected. Virtually every home has a television, and just about everyone owns a cell phone. At least 80% of homes have landline phones and Internet access, according to surveys done by Gallup over the past two years.

Housing in the UAE: Affordability Is a Big Issue

UAE residents express less satisfaction with housing. Overall, under half of the country's residents (48%) say they are satisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing in the city or area where they live. When Gallup asked this question in 2009 and 2010, the dissatisfaction among non-nationals was measurably higher than the dissatisfaction among nationals. This is perhaps because non-nationals, on average, have historically had lower incomes and could not afford to pay as much in rent. Also, nationals receive housing allowances or loans from the government to offset their cost of living. However, as of early this year, the differences between how nationals and non-nationals answer this question had effectively disappeared; nationals and non-nationals were equally likely to say they were dissatisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing.

Residents may still be suffering from the effects of the global financial crisis, which hit the UAE's housing market particularly hard. Real estate values in the UAE fell dramatically in early 2009, and they remain sharply lower than they were before the crisis. While rents have come down, they are still high with respect to what many residents can afford. The upper range of annual rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Abu Dhabi, for instance, is 130,000 dirhams ($35,402) - very similar to the average price of a non-doorman one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan ($35,244), one of the world's most expensive real estate markets. Rental prices in Dubai are not much lower, ranging from 23,000 dirhams annually ($6,263) to 120,000 dirhams ($32,679), according to Asteco, a property management company in the UAE.

Residents of Abu Dhabi were most satisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, they are as satisfied as those in the neighboring emirates.

The UAE Is Seen as a Good Place for Children

Those living in the UAE see it as a good place to raise a family. More than 90% say that children have an opportunity to learn and grow every day. Emiratis and non-nationals say this in equal proportions.

The majority of UAE residents (78%) also say they are satisfied with the educational system or schools in the cities or areas where they live. However, the satisfaction ratings with education have decreased slightly in the last two years, from 86% in the fall of 2009.

The UAE has made heavy investments in the educational system, driving up enrollment rates across the region. However the slight decline in satisfaction with UAE schools could reflect that the UAE's educational system is still not producing graduates with the skills to compete in the knowledge-based global economy.


The high well-being seen among so many UAE residents is a distinct advantage for the country - something that could keep it politically stable at a time of regional upheaval and help it attract the outside talent it needs for economic development. Between now and 2030, the Abu Dhabi emirate alone expects to expand its gross domestic product to more than five times its current size and wants to increase revenues from non-oil sources so that oil and non-oil revenues equalize by 2028. Growth is a point of pride for this maturing country. It will also pose a test as the UAE is called upon to deliver infrastructure and social services on an increasingly larger scale.

Survey Methods

Gallup is entirely responsible for the management, design, and control of this study. For the past 70 years, Gallup has been committed to the principle that accurately collecting and disseminating the opinions and aspirations of people around the globe is vital to understanding our world. Gallup's mission is to provide information in an objective, reliable, and scientifically grounded manner. Gallup is not associated with any political orientation, party, or advocacy group and does not accept partisan entities as clients.

Results are based on face-to-face interviews in the United Arab Emirates with approximately 5,144 adults from 2009 through 2011. Surveys were conducted March 1-31, 2009; Aug. 8-Sept. 18, 2009; Feb. 21-April 20, 2010; Sept. 8-Nov. 30, 2010; and March 4-April 23, 2011. The survey respondents include Emiratis and Arab expatriates; non-Arabs were excluded. It is estimated that more than half of the adult population is excluded.

For results based on the total sample of adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error for the total population is ±3.6 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

The questionnaire was translated into Arabic. The translation process starts with an English version. A translator who is proficient in the English and Arabic languages translates the survey into the target language. A second translator reviews the language version against the original version and recommends refinements.

Abu Dhabi Gallup Center

The Abu Dhabi Gallup Center is a Gallup research hub based in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is the product of a partnership between Gallup, the world's leading public opinion research firm, and the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi.

Building on Gallup's seminal work in the field of Muslim studies, the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center (ADGC) offers unmatched research on the attitudes and aspirations of Muslims around the word. In addition to its worldwide scope, the ADGC focuses on the specific priorities of its regional base and presents innovative analysis and insights on the most important challenges facing the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

[1] Gallup asks respondents to rate their current life and life as they suspect it will be in five years on a 0-to-10 ladder scale based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. It then classifies respondents as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering."

[2] In this report, "non-nationals" refers only to Arab-speaking expatriates. Thus, it leaves out many people who migrate to the UAE for work from places such as India and Pakistan, and who do not speak Arabic.

[3] Includes the six Arab Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Data were not available for Oman at the time of publishing.

[4] Includes more than 30 countries classified as high income by the World Bank, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

[5] Includes 22 countries and regions located in the Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland region, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Data for 2011 were not available for Libya, Morocco, and Oman at the time of publishing.

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