Generational and Cultural Changes in Family Life in the United Arab Emirates: A Comparison of Mothers and Daughters

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INTRODUCTION

Historically, gender roles and family relationships in Middle Eastern culture have been very traditional and steeped in beliefs and customs stemming from Islam. With rapid economic development and modernization, changes may be occurring among younger generations in regard to attitudes towards marriage and family life. The current exploratory study was guided by modernity theory as a means for understanding shifts from traditional to progressive attitudes and practices across generations. Matched pairs of daughters and mothers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) responded to questions addressing their views on gender and family role attitudes, childcare practices, cultural values, and beliefs toward fertility practices. All of the daughters were students at Zayed University. The data presented in this study are important because they represent a profile of generations struggling to adapt in an oil rich nation that is being pulled between values from the West, technological advances in every facet of life, and deeply held beliefs that stem from Islam. The data also are important because we know very little about family life in the Arab Gulf Nations, and especially in the modern nation of the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE and Zayed University

The United Arab Emirates is a federation of the former seven Trucial states, now referred to as Emirates and include: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharja, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Umm-al-Qaiwain, and Fujairah. This new Arab nation was formed in 1971 after terminating political relationships with Great Britain. Oil was discovered off Abu Dhabi in 1958 and vast reserves have been developed and the UAE has become not only an oil rich nation, but also a highly developed society over the past thirty years. The UAE, comprised of the seven Emirates, has a total land area equal to about 33,000 square miles. Dubai is a large international city with residents from all parts of the world. Large modern airports serve several cities and the UAE is well connected to all parts of the world through radio, TV, telephone, and the Internet. It is a nation that has come from a desert life of sheep and camels to a highly developed modern nation in only three decades. It has moved from camel caravans to modern freeways and a highly sophisticated infrastructure at a breath taking pace (Bowen & Early, 1993; Burke, 1993).

Back in 1963, Goode asserted that dynamic economic and social forces were having profound influences on daily family life in nearly every nation. His basic thesis was that social revolutions were occurring as a result of war, mass media, changes in the work force, and labor force participation. Certainly the Gulf Nations were heavily impacted by the occupation of Great Britain following World Wars I and II. Oil revenues, rapid infrastructure development, and other technological advances have impacted the United Arab Emirates with revolutionary force.

Many of the political leaders realize that oil will be gone someday in the future, and that citizens have to be prepared to live in a world without oil as the foundation for national wealth. Furthermore, there is a hope that the population will adapt to live in a world that is more diverse than oil revenues. News and information from the West pours into the homes of the Emiratees in the form of CNN, Fox, movies, sitcoms, documentaries, cartoons, fashion, healthcare, nutrition, and of course politics. Most music, media, and movies with an Islamic point of view come from Egypt and Turkey. However, current American movies can be seen in most of the new movie theaters and the youth in all of these Gulf Nations are the ones most interested in Western movies and music, the Internet, and fashion. Additionally, these young people have the language skills to fully engage in both the inviting newness from the West and to also understand the nostalgia of earlier times in Islam.

Current government leaders are committed to educating the citizens of this nation and several new colleges and universities have been developed over the past decade. …

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