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This delay is mostly involuntary and reflects the economic struggles of young people.

Youth unemployment in the Middle East is quite high, around 25 percent compared to the world average of 14 percent.

However, if squandered, the hopelessness among a large youthful population can drain economic development and social cohesion.

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So the groom and the father have to save their entire earnings for almost four years in order afford the cost of marriage. NOW: We have the Presidential elections coming up in the U. Have the young people you spoke to in the region any thoughts about that? Many of these youth like their peers across the Middle East have come of age knowing only President George Bush, and the policies of the last eight years have had a very direct impact on their lives.

NOW: Once married, is there an expectation that the woman is going to stay home and take care of a child? When I was in Jordan a young man said, "It used to be the case that when they were looking at marriage, they would look for a girl who was pretty. Of course there are concerns to do with the radicalism. ND: During a recent trip to Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, I met several young men and women who showed interest in the upcoming U. Some youth expressed optimism that with a new administration there is an opportunity for greater dialogue and cooperation. The majority of them shared concerns at being misunderstood and often cast in a negative light.

By staying longer in education, they are marrying later and are probably likely to have fewer children.

So there's a positive side to this, in the sense that it frees women from early childbearing, and as well it expands their opportunities for education and work life.

NOW: Many people might be surprised to hear that the Middle East has such high unemployment levels compared to the rest of the world. Second, economic systems have been less suited to accommodating these demographic pressures.

Middle Eastern economies have been characterized by a large public sector and severe regulations which have curtailed private sector job creation.Jobs require skills; housing and credit demand stable incomes; and marriage requires all of these.NOW: Why can't people just be unemployed and get married anyway?Finally, many young people are entering the labor market without a broad set of skills that the market wants.NOW: So what happens to all these unemployed young people?NOW: What's the downside to marrying later in life? It's important to understand the significance of marriage in most Middle Eastern societies. Your rite of passage to adulthood is secured by marriage.

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