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Contemporary challenges resulting from the demographic profile of GCC states: Labour markets, migration, and national identity

In collaboration with the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU)

1.  Aims of the project

Historically the bulk of political economy discourse on the Arab Gulf focused on its geostrategic importance. However, more recently, and in light of the region’s ‘national’ demographic pyramid profile, a considerable amount of the focus has shifted to examining the peculiarities of its labor markets: the ‘emerging strains’, rise of ‘dual labor markets’, and growing levels of ‘structural employment’ resultant from an evident over-dependence on an expatriate workforce and the government job provision mechanism (for citizens) that lays at the heart of the social contract. 

We suggest that a new strand of the literature will coalesce around the theme of the region’s “demographic imbalance” – contextually, the ratio of nationals (indigenous citizens) to non-nationals (expatriate workers and their dependents). Although the non-national component of the region’s population has been subjected to analysis for several decades, what is new is the way in which this potentially ‘value-laden’ frame of reference has (a) expanded to encompass not only labor market efficiency issues and conventional political-security threats but also socio-cultural threats and (b), gained such popular currency.

The purpose of this project therefore, is to offer a frank and detailed examination of the conceptual framework that appears to be coalescing around the demographic imbalance, and to investigate the extent to which there is a disconnect between the perceptions and realities of the threat it actually poses (economically, politically and socio-culturally-speaking).

In addition to an examination of the multifaceted actual and perceived ‘threats’ that the demographic imbalance is considered, in many quarters, to constitute, this project sets out to propose and evaluate a series of policy options, many of which are now actively being considered by decision makers in the GCC states. This project will gather experts in the fields to propose and evaluate policy options to address the issues at hand.

2.  Activities & Timeline: March 2012 – February 2014

March 2012 – August 2012

  • Initial meeting of project personnel, agreement over the themes to be included
  • Literature review to identify and approach academics with a focus on the suggested themes
  • Identification of potential governmental representatives across the GCC to interview
  • Identification of non-governmental experts across the GCC

September 2012 – August 2013

  • First workshop to discuss themes and decide upon content of key studies
  • Compilation of a progress report describing results from the initial literature review and key outcomes of the first workshop
  • Studies being conducted by individual academics with the support of UAE research assistants (graduate students and graduates from UAEU or other UAE accredited institutions)
  • Initial research findings published either in a second progress report to stakeholders, as well as in an academic journal or as a working paper in the LSE Middle East Centre series or Kuwait Research Program series

September 2013 – February 2014

  • Joint workshop to publicise and disseminate research findings, overall project review, and publication as an edited book
  • Publication of a series of policy briefs aimed to government officials ensure widest possible dissemination of findings among key stakeholders
3. Outcomes and impact
  • Substantive and original contribution to the academic literature on demographic challenges, labour markets and labour migration in the GCC
  • Enhanced understanding of the construction of threat perceptions and their relationship to empirical realities
  • Series of journal papers and an edited volume as the mechanisms for maximizing academic impact
  • Policy impact through the stakeholder workshops, progress reports and policy briefs
  • Policy-relevant research feeding into national and regional decision-making structures in GCC states
4. Personnel

Project Directors


Dr Kristian Coates Ulrichsen|

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen is Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the Kuwait Program on Development, Governance and Globalization in the Gulf States at the Department of Government, LSE.


Dr Omar Alnuaimi|

Omar Alnuaimi is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Business and Economics, United Arab Emirates University