February 16, 2008

Unaffordable Family Formation in the Islamic World

The NYT reports on how the rising age of marriage in Middle Eastern countries contributes to the rising Islamic fervor.

CAIRO — The concrete steps leading from Ahmed Muhammad Sayyid’s first-floor apartment sag in the middle, worn down over time, like Mr. Sayyid himself. Once, Mr. Sayyid had a decent job and a chance to marry. But his fiancĂ©e’s family canceled the engagement because after two years, he could not raise enough money to buy an apartment and furniture.

Mr. Sayyid spun into depression and lost nearly 40 pounds. For months, he sat at home and focused on one thing: reading the Koran. Now, at 28, with a diploma in tourism, he is living with his mother and working as a driver for less than $100 a month. With each of life’s disappointments and indignities, Mr. Sayyid has drawn religion closer.

Here in Egypt and across the Middle East, many young people are being forced to put off marriage, the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect. Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood.

Egypt has lots of education but few seem to learn any skills worth paying for:

Mr. Sayyid’s path to stalemate began years ago, in school.

Like most Egyptians educated in public schools, his course of study was determined entirely by grades on standardized tests. He was not a serious student, often skipping school, but scored well enough to go on to an academy, something between high school and a university. He was put in a five-year program to study tourism and hotel operations.

Five years "studying" tourism?

His diploma qualified him for little but unemployment. Education experts say that while Egypt has lifted many citizens out of illiteracy, its education system does not prepare young people for work in the modern world. Nor, according to a recent Population Council report issued in Cairo, does its economy provide enough well-paying jobs to allow many young people to afford marriage.

Egypt’s education system was originally devised to produce government workers under a compact with society forged in the heady early days of President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s administration in the late 1950s and ’60s.

Every graduate was guaranteed a government job, and peasant families for the first time were offered the prospect of social mobility through education. Now children of illiterate peasant farmers have degrees in engineering, law or business. The dream of mobility survives, but there are not enough government jobs for the floods of graduates. And many are not qualified for the private sector jobs that do exist, government and business officials said, because of their poor schooling. Business students often never touch a computer, for example.

On average, it takes several years for graduates to find their first job, in part because they would rather remain unemployed than work in a blue-collar factory position. It is considered a blow to family honor for a college graduate to take a blue-collar job, leaving large numbers of young people with nothing to do.

It's not totally clear why all this contributes to increased Islamic fanaticism, other than that's what they always seem to do over there when they have a problem: get more fanatical.

Marriage also plays on important financial role for families and the community. Often the only savings families acquire over a lifetime is the money for their children to marry, and handing it over amounts to an intergenerational transfer of wealth.

It's not clear from this what "the money for their children to marry" is for -- presumably, some mixture of a home, furnishings, and a fancy wedding ceremony.

But marriage is so expensive now, the system is collapsing in many communities. Diane Singerman, a professor at American University, said that a 1999 survey found that marriage in Egypt cost about $6,000, 11 times annual household expenditures per capita. Five years later, a study found the price had jumped 25 percent more. In other words, a groom and his father in the poorest segment of society had to save their total income for eight years to afford a wedding, she reported.

The result is delayed marriages across the region. A generation ago, 63 percent of Middle Eastern men in their mid- to late 20s were married, according to recent study by the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institution and the Dubai School of Government. That figure has dropped to nearly 50 percent across the region, among the lowest rates of marriage in the developing world, the report said. In Iran, for example, 38 percent of the 25- to 29-year-old men are not married, one of the largest pools of unattached males in Iranian history. In Egypt, the average age at which men now marry is 31.

Egypt's population is now 80 million and growing 1.7% per year. It's three times the size of New Mexico, but only 0.5% of the land (i.e., the banks of the Nile) are devoted to permanent crops.

The Egyptian total fertility rate is down to 2.77 babies per woman per lifetime, so Egypt's population problem, which looks rather like a classic Malthusian trap, is slowly being resolved by the classic Malthusian method of delayed marriage and strict controls against illegitimacy leading to fewer births, just as in England before the Industrial Revolution. Of course, 2008 is after the Industrial Revolution, so you'd think they could come up with something better.

The only good idea the government has come up with is to cut down on the cost of wedding ceremonies by turning them into a mass production operation, like high school graduations:

In Egypt and in other countries, like Saudi Arabia, governments help finance mass weddings, because they are concerned about the destabilizing effect of so many men and women who can not afford to marry.

The mass weddings are hugely festive, with couples, many in their late 30s and 40s, allowed to invite dozens of family members and friends. ... The couples were ferried to an open-air stadium in 75 cars donated by local people. They were greeted by a standing-room-only, roaring crowd, flashing neon lights, traditional music, the local governor and a television celebrity who served as the master of ceremonies for the event.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

17 comments:

Ali said...

That is interesting reading. I'm inclined to think economic scleroticism and the disparity in wealth between the elite and the middle classes is a major contributing factor. This book lays more of the blame at a lack of civil liberties.

SFG said...

Too bad they haven't turned into NYT-reading, one-child-having, latte-sipping lefties, eh?

Woody Allen never tried to blow up the WTC.

Peter said...

I laughed at the caption on the first slideshow picture accompanying the article. The picture shows a young engaged couple shopping for a ring, and the caption says they are cousins.

The Middle East's real problem, in a nutshell.

dearieme said...

A friend reports that a couple of the single young male Moslems he's known seemed to devote a lot of time to internet porn.

William said...

The only good idea the government has come up with is to cut down on the cost of wedding ceremonies...

Uh, no, that's not the only idea. The other one involves exporting large objects - usually about 70 inches or so, and anywhere between 100-200 pounds, on average. That, they've found, is the most surefire way of boosting Egyptian fertility.

But where should they export these objects to? Preferably to some country where the government will subsidize both their import and their necessary upkeep.

anony-mouse said...

And this idea can't be transferred to Southern California? Aren't there mega-curches already? Of course it would put wedding planners out of a job, and it wouldn't improve the cost of housing, but its a start (except the local celebrity part)

whiskey_199 said...

Steve good insight and the issue runs to other issues. Polygamy reduces the pool of available women and pushes up (due to scarcity) the income a prospective groom must have to secure a bride.

It's interesting to note that of the 19 hijackers, only one was married. HE wanted out of the plot, but his compatriots convinced him that his German wife was not a "proper" Islamic wife.

Societies that don't provide an avenue for marriage/family for young men find themselves plagued by violence.

tommy said...

Egypt has lots of education but few seem to learn any skills worth paying for:

If you hang around the Egyptian blogosphere long enough you'll encounter plenty of young Egyptians with what would ordinarily be considered good educations and wise career paths in the First World unable to find decent employment at home.

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, the government of Egypt bought space in this week's NY Times mag promoting Egypt's recent economic reforms and growth. I've seen the data elsewhere and it is impressive: ~7% economic growth, unemployment down to single-digits, surging investment inflows, etc. Egypt is the largest Arab country though, so even if the middle class grew significantly in recent years, that still leaves tens of millions in squalor. At least it seems to be moving in the right direction economically though.

More broadly, the one positive difference about the current oil boom versus previous ones is that the major Arab oil exporters are investing more in providing economic opportunities for their people instead of just blowing their cash on harems and such. In addition to plowing money into Egypt, the Gulf oil exporters are plowing money into their own countries -- sponsoring local campuses of top American universities, building cities to employ their people in complementary businesses (e.g., plastics), etc.

Good news doesn't get a lot of play, but there is finally some good news coming out of the region.

- Fred

Hal said...

... and they all need a job. And they all want to move to America. And when they cannot find a self-esteem-raising job here, they will return to Islamic terrorism.

Reminds me of New Lefties (also immigrant children) who saw their sacred duty in the 1960's as tearing down goy America for rejecting them and their parents (and to score Minnesota farm girls whenever they could, like Eldridge Cleaver taught in "Soul on Ice").

We don't need anyone moving here who is (if our history is any experience) is almost assuredly going to blame us for his low station in life and try to tear us down.

Anonymous said...

It's worth noting that Mohammed Atta was trained as some type of Engineer. His family could afford to send him to Germany but his marital prospects were not good.

Anonymous said...

Societies that don't provide an avenue for marriage/family for young men find themselves plagued by violence.

What are the implications for China's future?

thinking very loud said...

"Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood."

Doesn't make sense. Have better economic possibilities existed say 100 years ago around the ME? I guess it was far worse back then. So were the Arabs all peace-loving back then? Probably as crazy as today. I'd say Islam makes them crazy. But I guess this is just another lame attempt of the NYT to indirectly blame the West and the US for all the ME problems.

And what happended to being celibate and single. In christianity being celibate was considered de rigeur, and often you would find singles who were celibate with dignity. Only the christian faith can give you the framework to see that as something positive and not a burden. It's not as if all these sexually obessed beautiful people in hollywierd have exemplary lives full of gratitude and satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

While you guys have some aspects of this correct, you miss the main aspect pointed out by Thinking Very Loud: the culture is based around islam and the example of mohammed. The leaders haven't changed; they've been terrible for years. Now with the newfound wealth and dissemination of texts that people had been ignorant to in many of these countries (Sahih Muslim, Bukhari, tafsir interpretations of ibn Kathir, ibn Ishaq, jalalayn, etc. you are seeing islam reforming itself in its own image --- which according to the prophet's example was never good for unbelievers, homosexuals, women, or equality for any human being (unless muslim). The most cursory study of this man and islamic interpretations of the koran, sunna, etc. shows you why the society is so stifling and how it pits believer vs. unbeliever until domination takes place. The mention of love is very hard to come by in any of this --- make a note and find out for yourselves.

Anonymous said...

"Stymied by the government’s failure to provide adequate schooling and thwarted by an economy without jobs to match their abilities or aspirations, they are stuck in limbo between youth and adulthood."

Jobs don't drop out of the sky. They exist because some person or group of person is engaged in economically productive labor, which in turn must enlist other people to perform complementary labor and so on in a web of economic activity.

Maybe this is why pyramids were invented. To give all those discontent young men something to do. And what happened to Egypt's grain surplus? It was the breadbasket of the Roman empire back in the day.

Anonymous said...

Re: thinking very loud -- I remember in the 1970s watching a TV talk show where the host interviewed some black celebrity who had grown up in a very rural area of the deep South. He said that he had NO IDEA until he hitchhiked to NYC at the age of 18 that he had grown up dirt poor. Everybody he grew up with was dirt poor, and there was no television, no magazines, maybe no movie theatre either, etc.

These days, people all over the world who are dirt poor REALIZE that they are dirt poor due to the internet, movies, etc.

Argentina had the same problem in the 1970s/1980s. The Argentinian universities cranked out far too many graduates, and the graduates, due to the local culture, would not "settle" for jobs that were less than what they deserved as college graduates. Argentina went through tremendous unrest.

corvinus said...

Uh, no, that's not the only idea. The other one involves exporting large objects - usually about 70 inches or so, and anywhere between 100-200 pounds, on average. That, they've found, is the most surefire way of boosting Egyptian fertility.

But where should they export these objects to? Preferably to some country where the government will subsidize both their import and their necessary upkeep.


I'd rather they not do that. Those of the objects which are produced in Egypt tend to be quite ugly-looking. In addition, they have programming which is extremely bug-ridden.