Young people cannot afford to put off planning for their future

Young people cannot afford to put off planning for their future

Young people cannot afford to put off planning for their future
Young people should not be too afraid to face life’s inevitable adversities and challenges. (AN File Photo)
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For those familiar with the ex-Beatle George Harrison’s 1987 cover of a song from 1962, “Got My Mind Set on You,” it is not too difficult to read between the lines of the lyrics despite the distraction of the catchy, chart-topping tune. Since the words of most songs can have multiple meanings, those of “Got My Mind Set on You” may well be interpreted as a grown-up’s advice to a youth on the cusp between teenage years and adulthood who is trying to woo a girl. “I got my mind set on you … But it’s gonna take money … A whole lotta spending money … It’s gonna take time … A whole lot of precious time … To do it right, child.”
Fast forward to 2024 and one can hear a strong subliminal message in the same words: Young man or woman, the sooner you begin to appreciate the importance of earning and saving money, completing your education or finding your vocation, and looking for a spouse and starting a family, the better for you. In fact, not just better for “you” but, in an interconnected and globalized world, also better for the community, society, country and indeed humankind.
“Fertility is falling almost everywhere, for women across all levels of income, education and labor-force participation,” reported The Wall Street Journal this month. “The falling birth rates come with huge implications for the way people live, how economies grow and the standings of the world’s superpowers.”
Of course, there is no one piece of advice that is applicable to all young men and women of the world, just as there is no universal panacea capable of solving all the planet’s problems. What is good for Western societies is not always good for Eastern ones, particularly Middle Eastern ones, and vice versa.
For instance, the legalization of cannabis is viewed by large swaths of American, Canadian and European polities and publics as a policy whose time has come. The rest of the world has chosen not to follow suit and, judging by the weight of medical evidence, rightly so. Ditto many fads and hysterias that have enjoyed — or hopefully will enjoy — short lifespans.
Even so, there is no denying the lopsided influence that Western trends in everything from advances in cancer treatment to the degradation of higher education tend to have over the rest of the world. Like most things in life, cross-border influences on customs and traditions usually contain a mixture of sand and sugar, as it were. The challenge is to separate the sugar from the sand, instead of drowning in the mixture.
Take the steady increase in age at first marriage, the inability or unwillingness to save money for contingencies, the postponement or lack of confidence in finding a life partner, the hesitation in starting a family and, in some instances, opting for separation or divorce without adequately thinking through the long-term consequences. There is a growing body of evidence to prove that none of these trends are contributing to greater happiness, better physical or mental health, family prosperity or societal stability in any way. Yet, the winds of change that do not recognize borders are proving nearly impossible to stop, much less to roll back.

Like most things in life, cross-border influences on customs and traditions usually contain a mixture of sand and sugar.

Arnab Neil Sengupta

The good news is that social scientists are looking deeply at the irreversible changes reshaping Western societies and sounding warnings about their undesirable consequences with increasing frequency. As far back as 1975, Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist, noticed that “roles are changing for both men and women. Women are being pressured ... to believe that their past status was brought about by male oppression. At the same time, men ... are being accused of being oppressors — and angry oppressors at that. The whole process of change is taking place in an atmosphere of the greatest bad temper.”
Nearly 50 years later, Richard Reeves, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution, wrote, in the context of the US: “Boys are 50 percent more likely than girls to fail at all three key school subjects: math, reading and science. Things don’t get easier when boys grow up. Men’s rates of workforce participation have fallen and their suicide rates have risen.”
It doesn’t take a genius to understand why another political scientist chose to explain the global rise of populism this way: “If there are real problems in society and responsible parties don’t deal with them, the irresponsible parties will jump on them.”
The rest of the world would be wise to take note of the fascinating debates on this topic, ignore ideologically motivated critiques and draw the right conclusions.
Admittedly, for young Arabs to be able to learn marketable skills, save money to marry or buy a house and raise a family, they first need a sufficient income. And earning money is no easy task in countries blighted by conflict, militancy, bad governance, high unemployment, low wages and poor returns on education.
Fortunately, the findings of the Arab Youth Survey of 2023 offer reasons for cautious optimism. This annual study attempts to understand the hearts and minds of Arab youth, the Middle East’s largest demographic. As opposed to the aging West, 60 percent of the Arab world’s population, some 200 million young men and women, are below the age of 30.
Granted, as Sunil John, founder of Asda’a BCW, the PR agency that conducts the annual survey, noted, “young GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) citizens are poles apart from their fellow Arabs in North Africa and the Levant.” But he also cautioned: “A path to a better future for these young men and women must be found if we are to ensure the Arab world’s precious youth dividend is not lost.”
On the bright side, about three-quarters of Arab youths said they are worried about the loss of traditional values and cultures and far more said that religion and family/tribe are key to their identity (27 percent) than said gender (7 percent) or political beliefs (7 percent). This further suggests an absence of divergence between the views of young men and women, unlike in some advanced countries, where young men and young women do not see their interests or political views as being aligned. Also, 79 percent of young Arabs in North Africa and the Levant said they are not currently in debt.
On the downside, nearly half of the respondents said they struggle to meet their daily expenses; more than half of young Arabs, except in the GCC countries, believe it would be difficult to find a job in their country; and nearly half said they would want to leave their home country, with the desire to emigrate strongest in the Levant and North Africa. And although a growing number of young Arabs are turning to financial technology to help them supplement their incomes, many countries of the Middle East and North Africa rank among the lowest for long-term savers and investors.

What is for sure is that the Arab world cannot remain totally insulated from the challenges facing humankind as a whole. Birth rates are falling in most countries at the same time as public trust in government is declining in many, with serious economic, demographic and geopolitical consequences.

In the socio-economic eccentricities that Japan and South Korea lead today, mature as well as emerging Arab economies may follow unless correct and enlightened policies are put in place well in advance.

There are many who say that setbacks and failures are the fuel for success in life, so young Arab people should not be too afraid to face life’s inevitable adversities and challenges. But such advice is best reserved for entrepreneurs with an appetite for risk. Even for them, unpleasant events and developments are easier to deal with if there is adequate planning and preparation.
Be it in 1962, 1987, 2024 or the distant future, there are no shortcuts or magic wands. It’s gonna take money, a whole lotta spending money, it’s gonna take time, a whole lot of precious time. To do it right, child.

Arnab Neil Sengupta is a senior editor at Arab News.



Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view