For Love, Money and Status, or Personal Growth? A Survey of Young Emirati Women’s Educational Aspirations


The United Arab Emirates has been in the spotlight in recent years in light of its rapid growth and development. A key area of interest is the expansion of education, especially higher education for women, which has witnessed enormous growth in the last decade. However, despite the rapid increase in female higher education enrollment, women’s labor participation remains low, leading to questions on why highly educated young women are not in employment. This study investigates the incongruence between the growth of female attainment of higher education and women’s career inactivity over the last decades. To explore this mismatch, the study examines Emirati women’s perception of the role of higher education, analyzed through examining their educational and career aspirations and the correlations between these two. The study finds that for Emirati women, education is not always a means to an end, but simply the end itself. For some women, education is related to supplementing personal growth and contentment. The findings suggest that Emirati women aspire to further their education, especially through earning doctorate degrees. However, they do not necessarily connect their education to their intended future occupation. The findings provide an alternative explanation of the disconnect between women’s educational outcomes and labor market participation and provide insight into Emirati women’s choice to remain unemployed.


Educational aspiration, Labor participation, UAE Women, Education, Labor Force Mismatch

[1] Alhejji, H, & Garavan, T. (2016). Human Resource Development in Middle East. Edited by Thomas N. Garavan, Alma M. McCarthy, Michael J. Morley, Global Human Resource Development Regional and Country Perspectives. Routledge.

[2] Alwedinani, J. (2016). Gender and subject choice in higher education in Saudi Arabia. Unpublished dissertation.

[3] Amano, I. (1983). The function of higher education: Status expression. The Japan Society of Educational Sociology, 38, 44–49 ( Japanese).

[4] AONHewitt (2012). Qudurat: A pioneering research study by AonHewitt Middle East. http://www.aon. com/middle-east/attachments/AH-Qudurat-Report-English.pdf

[5] AONHewitt (2013). Understanding the workforce of the future in the UAE. DIAC-Understanding-the-Workforce-of-the-Future-in-the-UAE.pdf

[6] Azmat, G., & Guell, M. & Manning, A. (2004). Gender gaps in unemployment rates in OECD countries.

[7] Baki, R. (2004). Gender-segregated education in Saudi Arabia: Its impact on social norms and the Saudi labor market. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12 (28), 1-12. 2004

[8] Beblawi, H., & Luciani, G. (1987) The rentier state. London: Croom Helm. 9781315684864

[9] Bhayani, A. (2014). The market route to higher education in UAE: its rationales and implications. Int Rev Public Nonprofit Mark 11, 75–87.

[10] Carnevale, A. P., Cheah, B., & Rose, S. J., (2011). The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings. Executive Summary. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

[11] Chaoul, H. (2013). Arab Youth Unemployment. Alkhabeer Capital. files/library/files/2433.pdf

[12] Choi, S. (2016, December 16). A job is the reason for University (Korean). Daenamu. http://www.

[13] Collins Dictionary (n.d.). Imam. In COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary. https://www.collinsdictionary. com/dictionary/english/imam

[14] Collins, R. (1971). Functional and conflict theories of educational stratification. American Sociological Review, 36(6), 1002–1019. American Sociological Association.

[15] Collins, R. (1979). The credential society: A historical sociology of education and stratification. Academic Press.

[16] Department of Economic Development (2016). Abu Dhabi Competitiveness Report 2016. https://added.

[17] Dore, R. P. (1976). The diploma disease: Education, qualification and development. University of California Press.

[18] Dubai Women Establishment (2009). Arab women readership outlook 2009-2011 1st Edition. Dubai Women Establishment. arab-women-leadership-outlook.pdf

[19] Dubai Women Establishment (2012). Women Perspective on Work and Political Participation, Social Media, Poll Analysis Report 2012.

[20] Dudovskiy, J. (2018). The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: A Step by-Step Assistance. Research Methodology.

[21] El-Temtamy, O., O’Neill, K. & Midraj, S. (2016). Undergraduate employability training and employment: A UAE study. Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning, 6(1), 100-115. HESWBL-02-2015-0006

[22] EY (2015). How will the GCC close the skills gap? Publication/vwLUAssets/ey-how-will-the-gcc-close-the-skills-gap/\protect\TU\textdollarFILE/

[23] Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. (2015). The ZPOP Ratio: A Simple Take on a Complicated Labor Market. the-zpop-ratio-a-simple-take-on-a-complicated-labor-market.html

[24] Findlow, S. (2007). Women, higher education and social transformation in the Arab Gulf. In C. Brock & Z. L. Levers (Eds.), Aspects of education in the Middle East and Africa (pp. 57-76). Symposium Books.

[25] Gonzalez, G., Karoly, L., Constant, L., Salem, H., & Goldman, C. (2008). Facing human capital challenges of the 21st century: Education and labor market Initiatives in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirate. Land-Qatar policy Institute.

[26] International Labor Organization. (2015). World employment social outlook. groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/@publ/documents/publication/wcms_337069.pdf

[27] International Monetary Fund (2015). IMF country report No.15/220 United Arab Emirates. https://www.

[28] Jelili, R. (2010). The Arab Region’s unemployment problem revisited, API Working Paper Series.

[29] Kabbani, N., & Kothari, E. (2005). Youth employment in the MENA region: A situational assessment.

[30] Kropf, A., & Ramady, M. (Eds.). (2015). Employment and Career Motivation in the Arab Gulf States: The Rentier Mentality Revisited. Gerlach Press.

[31] Mahdi, K. (1997). Some economic aspects of higher education in the Arab Gulf. In Shaw, K., Ed., Higher Education in the Gulf: Problems and Prospects, 19-41.

[32] Ministry of Education (2015). Ministerial Cabinet approves 2015 budget and allocates 3.4 billion dirhams for higher education. UAE-Cabinet-approves-budget-for-2015-and-allocates-.aspx

[33] Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. (2015). Allocated Budget for Education in 2015. UAE-Cabinet-approves-budget-for-2015-andallocates-.aspx

[34] Modarress, B., Ansari, A., & Lockwood, D., (2013). Emiratization: From policy to implementation, International Journal of Human Resources Development and Management 13(2), 188–205. http:

[35] OECD (2012). Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship: Final Report to the MCM 2012.

[36] OECD (2016). Unemployment rate (indicator).

[37] Scott-Jackson, W., Kariem, B., Porteous, A. & Hab, A. (2010). Maximising women’s participation in the GCC workforce. Gulf Strategic Consulting. participation_in_the_GCC_workforce

[38] Ridge, N. (2014). Education and the reverse gender divide in the Gulf States: Embracing the global, ignoring the local. Teachers College Press.

[39] Shihab, M. (2001). Economic Development in the UAE. In I. Al Abed & P. Hellyer (Eds.), United Arab Emirates: A New Perspective (pp. 249-259). Trident Press Ltd.

[40] Shin, J., Hwang, K. & Jo, M. (2015). The Youth Panel 2007 (Korean). Kore Employment Information service.

[41] Sim, W. (2016). The Educational Aspirations of Saudi Arabian Youth: Implications for Creating a New Framework to Explain Saudi Arabian Society. FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education, 3(2).

[42] Spence, M. A. (1973). Job market signaling. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 87(3), 355–374.

[43] Trask, B. (2003). Woman’s Issues Worldwide the Middle East and North Africa, Greenwood Press.

[44] United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education, Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority. (2018). Statistics by subject.

[45] United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education. (2018). List of licensed institutions in UAE. https://www.

[46] UAE Labours. (2016). UAE Salary Range & Pay Scale in 2016. 08/Salary-average-in-uae6.html

[47] The World Bank Data. (2020). International Labour Organization. ILOSTAT database. https://data.

[48] Yamada, R. (2007). Comparative Analysis of College Students based on Affective and Cognitive Assessment ( Japanese). Report of the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research(B) (No.16330168).

[49] Young, K. (2016). Women’s Labor Force Participation Across the GCC. uploads/2016/12/Young_Womens-Labor_ONLINE-2.pdf

[50] Zeffane, R., & Kemp, L. J. (2012). Emiratization: challenges of strategic and radical change in the United Arab Emirates. In T. Dundon & A. Wilkinson (Eds.), Case Studies in Global Management Strategy, Innovation and People Management (pp. 306-314). Tilde University Press.