United Arab Emirates Demography and Statistics Through a Magnifying Glass

The United Arab Emirates’ population witnessed significant growth since the 2000s. This was a result of mass immigration motivated by a growing economy. A natural process, since the small native population would not be able to handle the fast changes and the waves of investments coming its way. Different types of immigrants choose the UAE as their destination to either seek a better opportunity than the ones available in their countries, to invest or to even start a business. Let us look at the UAE through a magnifying glass.

UAE population:

According to multiple sources, such as World Bank, World Population Review, etc., the total population of United Arab Emirates is estimated to be around 9,61 million people (1). from the last census, taken in 2005, the population of the country was much smaller and estimated at 4,1 million (2). The census also shows how overwhelming the presence of immigrants compared to the native population. Currently, the male population is at 6,89 million (which equals 72% of the whole country’s population), as for female one – it’s 2,65 million (28%) (3). The UAE’s gender imbalance is one of the highest in the world (second after Qatar). Most of the immigrants are men, although women also migrate to UAE in search for a job or for business purposes but on a much smaller scale compared to men.

As for specific nationalities’ presence in the overall population, Emiratis’ number makes up only 13%. The number of Indians, on the other hand, is more than twice bigger (34% of the whole population). Other major nationalities present in the country are: Pakistanis (16%), Bangladeshis (9%), Filipinos (7%); the other 21% is divided between different nationalities from all over the world (4). This data demonstrates how multinational the country became due to its fast-economic growth in recent decades, which was followed by mass immigration, especially from so-called 3rd world countries (labor force), but also from western countries (specialists, e.g. doctors, engineers, as well as businessmen).

Most of the country’s population is young. 78,7% of the entire population (that is over 7,7 million people) consists of men and women between the age of 15 and 65 years old. There are over 2 million children between the age of 0 and 14 years old. The population of men and women from group 65+ consists of just 0,09 million which is 0,9% of the population (5). And again, this is mainly due to immigrants being mostly (almost only) people from a productive age – they arrive purely to work and earn, rarely bring their families to whom they come back after some years.

Back in 1960, the population of the region, which is now called the United Arab Emirates, only consisted of 92 634 people. It was systematically but not rapidly growing and exceeded 1 million in 1980 and 2 million in 1992. The immigration boom was mostly triggered in the 2000s. From 2000 to 2004, the population jumped from 3,15 million to exceeding 4 million and reaching 5 million in 2005, 6 million in 2007, 7.5 million in 2009 and 8 million in 2010 (6). The population number is still growing, although the speed of this growth slowed down in recent years.

The rapid growth of the country’s population and the economy was triggered simultaneously since the extraction of oil in the region started (Abu Dhabi in 1968, Dubai in 1970). Yet, the population growth that followed is not thanks to the oil industry only. Tourism, trade, sport and other different sectors helped in attracting people from all over the world. There’s also the factor of the liberal market being one of the reasons why the financial sector is the most important part of the UAE economy nowadays.

Population of UAE by emirates and major cities:

Around 70% of the country’s population lives in two emirates: Dubai (35,7%, that is 3,32 million people) and Abu Dhabi (34,7% which is 3,23 million people). As for the other emirates, the population is divided as the following:

Sharjah is inhabited by 1,51 million people which make 16,2% of the population,

Ajman – 0,54 million people (5,8% of population),

Ras al-Khaimah – 0,39 million people (4,1%),

Fujairah – 0,25 million of people (2,7%),

Umm al-Quwain – 0,08 million of people (0,9%).

As for the largest cities, only the population of the city of Dubai exceeds 1 million (1 137 347 people). The second largest city is the capital of UAE, Abu Dhabi, with 603 492 people. The next most populated cities on the list would be: Sharjah (543 733 people), Al Ain (408 733) and Ajman (226 172) (1).

Around 86,5% of the population of the United Arab Emirates is urban (7). Agriculture in the UAE is not developed, as farming lands make only 2,9% of the country’s territory. There are however certain agricultural products farmed in the coastal regions and near oases. Products such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and cabbage, as well as fruit trees such as date palm.

Expats (immigrants) in UAE:

The demographic profile of UAE, especially that of major cities such as Dubai, is very diverse. The country’s migration rate is 21,71 – one of the world’s highest. According to Article 8 of the UAE Federal Law no. 17, an expatriate can apply for citizenship after residing in the country for 20 years – provided that the person has never been convicted for a crime and is a fluent Arabic speaker.

Indian and Pakistani expatriates are the biggest groups among nations living in the UAE. The rest of the expat population consists of: Bangladeshis (9%), Filipinos (7%), Iranians (6%), Egyptians (5%), Nepalis (4%) and Sri Lankans (4%) (8). In multicultural cities like Dubai, you can also observe a constant growth in the presence of Europeans. Together with expats from North America, Australia, and Latin America, they make up 500 000 of the UAE population. More than 100 000 of them are British.

Indians, as the largest population group, contribute to almost every sector of UAE’s economy. Most of the Indian expats come from Kerala but other states are also represented. The majority of Indians serve in the manufacturing industries. Besides the working classes though, there is a vast chain of Indian businesses as well. Pakistani population’s diversification looks quite similar to the Indian one – here too, you can find both average workers and highly qualified professionals, who work as engineers or doctors. Other South and East Asian nations also paint a diversified image of job branches. For instance, the Nepalese are mostly known to do manual labor such as construction, while the Japanese, on the other hand, enjoy very lucrative positions and take white collar jobs, as it is the case with most Europeans and Americans. As for the Chinese, they mainly focus their effort on business.

Economy of United Arab Emirates:

In just half a century the UAE went from being an insignificant economic power to become one of the fast-growing economies in the area. The city of Dubai is one of the most outstanding examples of that change – where just 50 years ago small fishermen houses were standing, now you can see one of tallest skyscrapers in the world covering the area. This, of course, all thanks to one main source and that is oil. To this day, oil is still a very important source of the country’s income and base of its economy – except for Dubai where oil currently makes up just 4% of income. Dubai is instead an important trade, financial and tourism center. The financial policy of the UAE is a very important factor here – the exchange course for the American dollar is always stable. There are no taxes added to goods and businesses are also tax-free. That encourages many companies to invest in the country. According to “Doing Business 2017” report, published by the World Bank Group, UAE is ranked as the 26th best country in the world for doing business. The report results are based on the economy of the country and the regulatory environment.

Petroleum and natural gas still play a central role in the economy of the UAE, especially in Abu Dhabi. In 2009, more than 85% of the country’s economy was based on oil exports. While the country tries to diversify its income sources and make its economy less and less oil-based, so far Dubai is the only place where it worked. In Dubai, the oil-based economy is almost excluded as a main source of income. One of the reasons for that is that Dubai has much smaller oil reserves than other parts of the country. The portion of GDP based on oil is being reduced every year. Dubai suffered from a significant economic crisis in 2007–2010; however, the emirate had to be supported by Abu Dhabi back then to keep running. Tourism is currently a very important sector of Dubai’s economy. The city of Dubai became one of the top touristic destinations in the Middle East.

The GDP of the United Arab Emirates in 1975 was noted as 14 721 billion USD. It then exceeded 40 billion USD in the 80s and was held between 30 and 60 billion USD up to 1994. In the 90s, the GDP growth became faster; however, it reached a whole new level in the 2000s. While it amounted to almost 84,5 billion USD in 1999, it reached actually 103,3 billion in 2001. It then peaked in 2014 with over 403 billion USD but then witnessed a temporary decrease, which didn’t last very long. In 2017, the GDP of over 382,5 billion USD was noted. According to the data collected by the World Bank, the GDP per capita in UAE was 40 698,85 USD in 2017.

According to the official web portal of UAE government, the governmental program “Vision 2021” aims at creating and maintaining a sustainable and diversified economy […], being flexible in adopting new economic models and capitalizing on global economic partnership.

Following “Vision 2021” strategy, the key factors to focus on are: 

  • A non-oil real GDP growth
  • Gross National Income (GNI) per capita
  • Net Inflow of Foreign Direct Investment as a percentage of GDP
  • Global Competitiveness Index
  • Share of UAE nationals in the workforce
  • Ease of Doing Business Index
  • Emiratisation Rate in the private sector
  • SME's contribution to non-oil GDP
  • Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index (GEDI)
  • Global Innovation Index
  • Share of 'knowledge workers' in the labor force
  • Research and development expenditure as a percentage of GDP (source: https://www.government.ae/en/about-the-uae/economy, access 20 Nov 2018).

Quality of life In Emirates:

The average life expectancy in the UAE is 76 for men and 79 for women (2016), which is higher than in any other Arab country. Life expectancy is systematically growing.

According to a 2013 data, the under-five mortality rate in the UAE is 8 per 1000 children. There were no deaths caused by HIV/AIDS or malaria noted and deaths from tuberculosis ratio was 0,69 per 100 000 population.

Specialists say that the UAE will be the second fastest growing country in the Arab Peninsula in the field of health services. Currently, according to the WHO (World Health Organization), the UAE is 27th in a rank focusing on the quality of the health service around the globe. There are over 70 hospitals, both public and private and over 150 other medical facilities. Not only that, but UAE citizens are guaranteed to benefit from free medical care, while baby and mother care are counted as one of the best in the world. As for the most common causes of death in the country, heart and blood circulation diseases top the list.  

The level of illiteracy in the UAE is still high and was estimated at 22%. At the same time, the United Arab Emirates, especially in the city of Dubai, is technologically advanced and is constantly seeking modernization.

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