Excerpts below are from “Saudi Arabia’s Youth and the Kingdom’s Future,” by Caryle Murphy, available for download from the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.
Saudi Arabia is passing through a unique demographic period. …Approximately 37 percent of the Saudi population
is below the age of 14. Those under age 25 account for around 51 percent of the population, and when those under 29 are included, young people amount to two-thirds of the kingdom’s population. (In the United States, those 14 years and younger are 20 percent of the population; those 29 and below make up 41 percent.)
The country’s unprecedented “youth bulge” has not yet crested, which means increasing numbers of job-seekers in coming years. This demographic profile is typical of the Gulf region where around 60 percent of the people are under the age of 30, making it one of the most youthful regions in the world.
If there is one segment of Saudi society pushing aggressively for reforms, it is young women. Their demands for greater personal freedoms and more say in Saudi public life will be the biggest driver of social and economic change in the next few years. This is because the restrictions under which Saudi women live, which collectively come under the rubric of the “guardianship” system, are increasingly running into two obstacles.
One obstacle is resistance from young, educated women who are aware that Muslim women in other countries have more personal freedoms than Saudi females, who are not even allowed to drive.
In addition, the guardianship system, as well as society’s strict gender segregation, will be difficult to maintain given the government’s often-stated intentions to bring women into the workforce and to create a more diversified, knowledge-based economy less dependent on oil. It is very difficult to have a creative, dynamic, and productive economic system if half the population is segregated and treated like children.
Download the full article from the Wilson Center.
Caryle Murphy is a public policy scholar with the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program and a freelance journalist.