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The Facts

The Problem

  • Globally, young people are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than adult workers.1  This problem is particularly acute in the Middle East, where 25 percent of youth (ages 15 to 24) are unemployed, compared to the world average of 14 percent.2
  • In Syria, youth comprise 60 percent of the total unemployed population; in the United Arab Emirates, it’s 81 percent.3 In Tunisia, youth unemployment increased from less than 4 percent in the early 1990s to 23 percent in 2010.4 As of 2010, 90 percent of the unemployed in Egypt were under 30 years old.5 Youth unemployment costs the Middle East region nearly 7 percent of its GDP annually.6

Education and Youth Employment

  • Despite recent improvements in educational attainment and gender parity in education throughout the Middle East, more than 25 percent of employers in the region report the lack of skills among workers as a major constraint to business growth.
  • In Mauritania, for example, many young people receive a religious education before their formal university education, which results in a mismatch between their skills and the needs of the economy.7 In Jordan, of the 55,000 jobs created annually between 2001 and 2007, 63 percent went to expatriate workers.8 
  • For many youth, the prolonged period of unemployment after completing their education reflects a mismatch between expectations and the quality of jobs available. In Egypt, women and men with post-secondary and university education, respectively, are more likely to be unemployed than their less educated peers.9 In Algeria, 21 percent of graduates from higher education institutions are unemployed (11% of men, 34% of women), compared to only 7 percent of youth without higher education credentials. Similarly, in Tunisia unemployment is four times higher among university graduates compared to unqualified workers.10

Gender and Youth Unemployment

  • In the Middle East, only two out of every ten working age women have jobs, compared to seven out of ten working age men.11 
  • In Algeria, among women aged 15 to 24, 38 percent are unemployed, compared to 19 percent of men in this age group.12 The 2009 Survey of Young People in Egypt found that male participation and employment rates exceeded 80 percent, compared to less than 15 percent employment and participation by women.13 The workforce participation rate of 52 percent in Mauritania also hides dramatic gender disparities, with 75 percent participation for men and 34 percent participation for women.14 Finally, despite Tunisia’s place as one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East in terms of gender equality, women’s participation in the workplace remains low at 27 percent.15 
  • Gender gaps in labor force participation often have their roots in unequal access to education and gender norms regarding women’s work. The largest gaps in labour force participation of young men versus women are in South Asia (35 percentage points) and the Middle East and North Africa (29 percentage points).16
  • Gender discrimination, cultural traditions and the lack of opportunities often leave women with unpaid, family-based work. In North Africa in 2005, for example, 78 percent of the young females were inactive in the formal economy. Where prospects for finding work are low for all young people, young women are often the first to give up their hopes of getting a job to stay at home.17

Gender, Youth, and Employability in Morocco

  • In Morocco, despite progress in reducing the national unemployment rate to 9 percent over the last decade, youth unemployment remains high at 18 percent nationally and 31 percent in urban areas. First time job seekers accounted for half the unemployed in 2010.18
  • Compared to its neighbors in the Middle East, the gender gap in employment is small in Morocco – and favors young women. As of 2009, the unemployment rate was 17 percent among young men and 16 percent among young women. In rural areas the unemployment rate among men is three times higher than that among women.19
  • As in other countries in the region, for Moroccan youth a higher education level corresponds to a higher likelihood of unemployment. Sixty-five per cent of the unemployed youth are first-time jobseekers.20
  • In response to the mismatch between skills and jobs for young graduates, the government of Morocco has undertaken reforms of the higher education system through the 2009-2012 emergency plan, aiming to develop career paths that are better aligned with the needs of the private sector.21
  • While a growing number of young Moroccans believe that economic conditions are improving in their communities, compared to 2009, young Moroccans are less optimistic about improvements in their national economy. However, 86 percent of young Moroccans say they would be willing to start their own businesses if they were unemployed, perhaps reflecting the focus on self-employment and entrepreneurship in the country’s labor policy.22

1. Breaking new ground: Partnerships for decent work for youth. Youth Employment note prepared by the ILO Programme on Youth Employment for the February 2012 ECOSOC event on jobs for young people worldwide. Available at:

2. Navtej Dhillon, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, Paul Dyer, Tarik Yousef, Amina Fahmy, and Mary Kraetsch. Missed by the Boom, Hurt by the Bust: Making Markets Work for Young People in the Middle East: An Agenda for Policy Reform and Greater Regional Cooperation. Middle East Youth Initiative, A Joint Project of the Dubai School of Government & the Wolfensohn Center for Development at Brookings. May 2009. Available at:

3. Dhillon et al. 2009.

4. African Economic Outlook 2012: North African Countries. African Development Bank, Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Available at:

5. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

6. Dhillon et al. 2009.

7. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

8. Dhillon et al. 2009.

9. Dhillon et al. 2009.

10. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

11. Dhillon et al. 2009.

12. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

13. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

14. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

15. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

16. Youth Employment: Breaking Gender Barriers for Young Women and Men. International Labour Organization. 2008. Available at:

17. Youth Employment: Breaking Gender Barriers for Young Women and Men. 2008. 

18. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

19. Morocco: A Country Factsheet on Youth Employment. 2011 Governing Council. Available at:  

20. Morocco: A Country Factsheet on Youth Employment.

21. African Economic Outlook, 2012.

22. The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs. April 2011. Silatech and Gallup Inc. Available at: