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Athanasios Tsetsonis - Sector Economist
Published Date: 28 May 2018
The UAE is the happiest country in the Arab world for the fourth consecutive year in 2018, according the latest World Happiness Report (put together by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations). UAE ranked 20th overall among 156 countries, up one place from 2017, followed by Qatar (32nd), Saudi Arabia (33rd), Bahrain (43rd) and Kuwait (45th). Finland is the world's happiest country, rising from the 5th place last year to take the top spot from Norway while Australia ranked 10th. UAE ranked first globally in six out of the nineteen indicators such as convenience of the city for people from different countries to live in, being healthy to perform daily activities, satisfaction with efforts to preserve the environment, percentage of full-time employed population, satisfaction with roads and highways, and availability of mobile phones for personal calls.
The UAE Government aims to make the country amongst the top five happiest countries in the world by 2021. As a result, the post of the Minister of State for Happiness was created in February 2016, responsible for harmonising all government plans, programmes and policies to achieve a happier society. Following a Cabinet reshuffle last year, an additional portfolio was added to the Minister of State for Happiness to become the Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing.
Source: UN World Happiness Report, Emirates NBD Research
Large scale international migration has increased considerably in recent years from 153mn people living outside their country of birth in 1990 to 244mn in 2015, an increase of roughly 60%, according to the 2018 World Migration Report. In Western Europe for example, most countries have immigrants at a range of 10-15% of the population. The same stands for United States, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand range between 20-30%. The highest percentage of foreign-born population can be found in the UAE and Kuwait, with both recording over 70% of the population.
Measuring the happiness of both expatriates and Emiratis, the report shows that UAE scores highly on the index relating to quality of life for locals, securing a robust 7.2, a score that ranks it 11th worldwide when it comes to the happiness of locals. Foreigners living in UAE ranked as the 19th happiest people in the world, coming ahead of countries like the United Kingdom, Singapore, Belgium, Germany and France. Yet, more proof establishing UAE's position as accommodating and supporting an environment fit for expat arrivals.
Source: UN World Happiness Report, Emirates NBD Research
Dubai remains one of the most attractive destination for expatriates, according to the 2018 Mercer’s annual Quality of Living survey. Specifically, Dubai (74) is the city with the highest quality of living across the Middle East, followed closely only by Abu Dhabi (77), up two places compared with 2017. Both ranking 65th, Dubai and Abu Dhabi top the regional list for City Sanitation. With Damascus (225), Sana’a (229) and Baghdad (231) recording the lowest score in the region for quality of living, only three other Middle East cities made the top 120, including Muscat (105), Doha (110), and Amman (119).
Overall, UAE has recorded the highest increase in living standards (+12.2%) in the region, following intensive efforts over the past twenty years (ranking in 1998 vs ranking in 2018) to improve infrastructure (airports, public transport, etc.) and recreational and entertainment facilities while developing their tourism and transport infrastructure. Many international companies have based their regional headquarters in the UAE, causing an influx of expatriates.
The international recognition of Dubai as one of the best cities to live, work and retire can further accelerate profitable business growth and societal progress. Moving in this direction, UAE recently approved changes to rules governing expatriate residency and foreign ownership of companies. The changes, that will allow 100% ownership of businesses by foreign investors in some sectors and permit residency visas for some expats for as long as 10 years, will take place by the end of this year and are expected to stimulate investment in the country. Part of the circa AED 164bn that expats currently remit abroad may stay on onshore and be invested in local assets.
Source: Mercer, Emirates NBD Research
The MENA region continued its progress by closing more than 60% of its overall gender pay gap for a second consecutive year in 2017, according to the latest Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Unfortunately, it continued to rank last globally on the overall Index measuring gender equality across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics. In 2017, the region’s best-performing countries were Tunisia, UAE and Bahrain, having closed between 65% and 63% of their overall gender gaps.
UAE (120) remained the top performer in the GCC, climbing several spots on the back of notable improvements on gender parity in ministerial positions and wage equality for similar work, and comes close to fully closing its gender gap on the Educational Attainment subindex. It has also recorded a robust score on the Health and Survival subindex over the past decade. One of the goals of UAE Vision 2021 involves the country becoming one of the world’s top 25 places for gender equality.
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