Demographic Profile of GCC States: Labour Markets, Migration and National Identity

in collaboration with UAEU

LSE PI: Dr Kristian Coates Ulrichsen
Duration: March 2012–February 2014

Lisa Leonardelli,, 2009

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 peculiaritie 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. 

This research project suggests 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, was 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 set 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 gathered experts in the fields to propose and evaluate policy options to address the issues at hand.

This project forms part of the Academic Collaboration with Arab Universities Programme, funded by the Emirates Foundation.

Project Outputs

Research Team


Kristian Coates Ulrichsen | Principal Investigator

Kristian is a Baker Institute Fellow for the Middle East. He was previously Research Fellow at the LSE Kuwait Programme.


Karen E. Young | Research Fellow

Karen was a Visiting Fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and prior to that a Research Fellow in 2014–2015. She is Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.


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