The economic imperatives of marriage: emerging practices and identities among youth in the Middle East

The economic imperatives of marriage: emerging practices and identities among youth in the Middle East

The socio-political impact of delayed marriage for Middle Eastern youths

Demographic transition in the Middle East and North African region has led to what has been termed a ‘youth bulge’, with over 50% of the population being under 25. With co-habitation legally and culturally unacceptable, young people often remain dependent on parental support until they can afford to get married. This paper argues that the political economy of youth should be conceptualised through this lens of the “marriage imperative” because the financial investment in marriage takes years to accumulate and influences other key transitions of adolescence, including schooling, employment, education, and identity formation. [Adapted from the author]

Policy formulation should take the following issues into account when targeting the emancipation of young people from dependency on parental support: 

  • poverty: those on lower wages need to save longer in order to afford marriage, however, marriage is also an incentive for saving and parental support for their unmarried children protects them from certain aspects of poverty 
  • housing: limited availability of mortgage markets (houses often have to bought outright) and lack of political and economic incentives for developers to build modest housing means young people struggle buy property, a prerequisite for getting married 
  • alienation of young people: economic exclusion and social/moral alienation from parental/authoritative norms has led to self-destructive behaviour in some young people such as suicide, substance abuse and seeking frontline employment in Iraq 
  • reproductive health: public health officials should address the need for both sex education and health-care for unmarried men and women and not assume sexuality is confined to marriage
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