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Qatar Demographics - a worsening social problem in Qatar

Updated on July 5, 2013
Paraglider profile image

For the last 15 years, Dave has lived and worked in GCC countries including UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait.

Qatar is a small country

The population is around* one million, most of whom live in Doha, the capital. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Of this million, only one in five is Qatari. Four fifths of the population are immigrant workers. To every ten Qataris, there are, approximately:

  • 10 Indians
  • 10 Pakistanis
  • 10 non-Qatari Arabs (Egypt, Palestine, Jordan)
  • 5 Iranians
  • 5 Others (I am one of these!)

* In this article I am using approximate numbers to illustrate trends. You can find more exact demographic details here.

Now remember that 10 Qataris will include children, the elderly, the sick and disabled (because they all live here). When you take this into account, the group of ten Qataris contains only three healthy Qatari men of working age, while the forty foreigners are all of working age and fit for work. We can say that with confidence because anyone who can't work, through illness, redundancy or criminal conviction, is quickly repatriated and replaced.

And of course, the forty foreign workers are a male-skewed group comprising around thirty men and ten women, because most of the work is in Energy and Construction, both heavily male dominated fields (and the immigrant workers are not allowed to bring their families, except for the professional classes).

So there you have it. Every Qatari man of working age is outnumbered ten to one by working men from abroad. How does that feel?

doha west bay viewed from the corniche
doha west bay viewed from the corniche | Source
making way for the new doha
making way for the new doha | Source

No immigration in Qatar

While many Western countries worry about controlling immigration, Qatar goes its own sweet way. There are no immigrants here, only a temporary immigrant workforce. No-one is given Qatari nationality. To work here, you have to be sponsored. You cannot leave the country without an exit visa issued by the sponsor. You cannot move to another employer without a letter of no objection from your sponsor. When the work runs out, so does your visa (or soon after) and you have to go home. You cannot retire here. Even if you've worked thirty years, at retirement age, you're on your way. You're history.

There are a few, a very few, exceptions to the above, e.g. when Qatar finds itself in need of tall people to play for its National basketball team, but as a summary it's accurate enough.

I can already hear a rumbling from right-wing readers saying, that's the way to do it. We could use some of that over here. But bear with me. There are big problems attached. 

this whole area is being cleared for reconstruction
this whole area is being cleared for reconstruction | Source

What about the Qataris?

As a foreigner in Qatar, it's easy to see only the problems experienced by the foreign communities, and there are many, ranging from lack of representation, substandard working and living conditions to abuse of domestic servants. These and more are well documented elsewhere. But what about the Qataris themselves? How does this demographic pan out for them?

It takes far fewer people to operate a gas plant, refinery, power station, or desalination plant than it does to build it. And in a small country, there is only so much infrastructure that is required. Sooner or later, the big projects must end and the workforce will have to be reduced. And not just the workforce on the plants, but the whole support industry occupying the offices and tower blocks of the new city. Unless the Qataris want an empty city, they will have to attract a different profile of foreigner, and in huge numbers.

This is why Qatar is pitching seriously for its place in the World, through major conferences, summits, sporting events, etc. But it has an uphill struggle. For most of the year, it is far hotter than a Nevada summer with New Orleans humidity thrown in as a bonus. A further disincentive is the restrictive prevailing culture. Qatar is not Saudi but it's still many steps down from being an open society. At present, people come here to work, and tolerate it, but if Qatar wants people to come to live, from choice, that's a very different game.

Go forth and multiply

Maybe the answer is that most traditional one - encourage the Qataris to have bigger families. It's not as if they can't afford it. The oil and gas revenue puts Qatar high among the richest countries in the World, per capita.

But there's a problem here. Qatar is very strong in education and a leader in the field in the Arab World. While this is of course a good thing, it has the interesting side effect that educated, and therefore emancipated, young Qatari women are not rushing to marry Qatari men as previously. Their expectations are altered. Couple that with the strict rules and traditions concerning suitable marriage partners in Qatari society, and what we're seeing for several years now is a gradual decline in the native population. Though this is not much talked about publicly, it is a cause for concern in high places.

There would seem to be no easy solution to the Qatar demographic problem. Will they relax immigration policy? Sanction mixed marriages? Stop educating the girls? Sooner or later, something has to change.

Thanks for reading!

Postscript, June 2011

A new trend is emerging that is further discomfiting the Qatari authorities. With the expansion of the Indian economy, better opportunities and salaries back home are attracting large numbers of Indian expat workers, especially the more professional and skilled sectors, to abandon Qatar in favour of their home country. At home, of course, they will live with their families, earn the respect of the community and enjoy normal human rights. All this and a decent pay cheque at the end of the month. So far, Qatar does not have an answer to this new brain drain within its immigrant workforce. Perhaps this will drive them to extend citizenship rights to those they can least afford to lose? Time will tell.


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    • someonewhoknows profile image


      4 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      Now that the F I F A indictments have opened up a Pandora box where the Qatar horrors are exposed to the public.Horrors that go way past

      bribes and kickbacks, suitcases full of cash and the peddling of votes. Because they include the senseless sacrifices of human lives on

      the altar of greed.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Sometimes it feels as though the ship is out of control, with nobody checking speed or direction of travel. Fascinating but troubling too. Time will tell, as ever.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Very interesting social concept. It will be very interesting to see how time changes this culture although it does not seem that this change will be to the overall good of the permanent peoples of this region.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Nick. The parallel with Australia is interesting. Qatar is doing what it has to in order to develop quickly, but it can't hide from the problems it is creating for itself. Changes are inevitable.

    • Nick Hanlon profile image

      Nick Hanlon 

      7 years ago from Chiang Mai

      A no B.S. judgment of Qatar.this is how a lot of democracies we're created;freeing themselves up in order to attract quality people.Same story happened in Australia 150 years ago.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      GmaGoldie - thank you. I also like my numbers. As an engineer, they are my bread and butter too. Qatar is a fascinating world within a world, and small enough to easily see the trends as they happen.

    • GmaGoldie profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      8 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      I thought the brain drain was affecting only the US. The global footprint is changing rapidly forcing many changes upon every nation. Fantastic use of numbers. As a former Finance Director, I thrive on numbers that relate - exceptional example.

      Thank you for sharing another piece of the world with us.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi livelonger - Qatar is governed by a royal family and their appointees, with no elective process. The Qataris don't complain because they all benefit substantially from the oil and gas wealth, even if they don't work. A popular ex-pat revolt isn't likely among people who mainly want to make some money and go home. But the trend I mentioned in the postscript might in time give more leverage to the ex-pat communities. Thanks for the read.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Fascinating. I had no idea Qataris were a (tiny!) minority in their own country, and so desperately dependent on foreign workers. The one question I have is how their government works. I assume there is not a vote. What if there were a popular revolt among the other 90% of the population to have one? That might be the only way the government is forced to confront the problems you've covered in your Hub.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      It's certainly a fascinating place to live, if not always a bundle of laughs! The award of the 2022 World Cup guarantees major project work for at least these ten years, but beyond that it will be interesting to see how they fill all the new hotels and office buildings.

    • RedElf profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      Seems the Qataris will have to "share their goodies" more equitably to entice the people they want to add to their society. Such a lot to think about in your hub and in the comments. Qatar truly is a microcosm for the world.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Wan't it Louis XIV who said 'l'étoit, c'est moi!' - I am the state! But that was at the turning point before France descended to inevitable revolution. I think that ruling monarchs and dictators impose their particular agenda then run out of steam. In Qatar, we are very lucky to have the Emir's wife, Sheikha Mosah bint Nasser, who has done great things for education, culture and women's rights, and continues to work tirelessly on her projects for advancement of the society. She is a very intelligent and forward-looking woman. Take a look at her website:

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Fascinating that this is a society with almost the opposite problems to those faced by other societies. The bottleneck would seem to me to be the Royal Family, which, as you say, is de facto the state. Or is my anti-roaylist bias showing?

      Thanks for a really interesting read.

      Love and peace


    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Yes. The same is true in much of the UAE for example. Anywhere that relies on an immigrant workforce will have similar issues to deal with.

    • quicksand profile image


      9 years ago

      Interesting article, Paraglider. I guess in many middle eastern countries the same trends follow.


    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Thanks Micky. These 'emerging economies' often discover that their traditions have to be compromised. They can't have it all their own way.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Very, very interesting. This was another great read. Thank you Paraglider!

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi Tatjana - the small local population and lack of mixed marriages also gives problems of genetically inherited illnesses. for their own welfare, they do need to broaden their horizons a bit.

      I don't expect to see major changes in the rest of my time here (probably a couple more years). I think change is maybe ten years down the line.

      Thanks for the visit :)

    • Tatjana-Mihaela profile image


      9 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

      Wow, you do live in very interesting (and challenging) circumstances. Quatar society seems to be very interesting.

      No intermarriage in Quatar and no immigrants? Quataris just protect their teritorry and style of life of it`s people. From their point of view this is wise... they are obviously not prepared for mixing with rest of the world.

      Germany (Western) was known to be built thanks to the effort of foreign workers after WWII ( actually no German would ever wanted to work anything what foreign workers did - the most difficult and most dirtiest jobs one can imagine), but they allowed many of them to work and stay permanently, so their children finally gained citizenship. Now many Germans cannot stand them, because good times are over.

      Quataris obviously don`t want that something like that happens to them, after 1 or 2 generations. But something will change, for sure.

      BTW, how is to live among so many men?

      I could`not stand temperature there, for sure - during the hottest summer days I always try to run away in the mountains where is cooler.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Hi Maita. I agree they have to open up in many ways and intermarriage is good for the numbers and the gene pool. I think it will come.

      Always exploring - these are very much the thoughts John Lennon expressed in Imagine. I'm sure there could be much more openness if there were the political will to work towards it.

      Gus - That's all true. Dubai tried to turn itself into a playground, a bit like Vegas but without the casinos. They attract lots of tourists, but most only visit once. Qatar attracts people for specific events, like Asia Games, and they're bidders for the 2022 World Cup too. (Air conditioned stadiums!) But getting people to want to stay longterm is not easy.

      Hi Jeremey - I think you are a new reader for me? Welcome. Qatar, being so small, is a good lems through which to look at other societies. I've been here six years and am still fascinated.

    • Jeremey profile image


      9 years ago from Arizona

      Wonderful hub, eye-opening to the issues throughout the world that I as an American easily overlook being immersed in problems here. Its amazing how similar though on different scales that issues governing countries across the world are. Thanks for the interesting hub!

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      9 years ago from USA

      Hi Paraglider - Great article here. In addition to the declining population of Qataris, there are the other problems you so well describe. Kind of reminds me of a book I read way back in the 1940s - "Under the Red Sea Sun." In that the author(s) spoke of 130 degree temperature in the shade, super-high humidity, sharks in the waters, and the "enemy" always on the horizon. There seems to be very little to attract folks to Qatar other than temporary employment under the conditions afforded indentured servants.

      Gus :-)))

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      9 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This article is very interesting and educational.I don't know how the Qataris can fix their problems,but to stop educating the girls,is not one of them.I guess i'm under educated about immigration.Why can't we have an open society? Why must there be boundries?,Thus, no immigrants.Just a thought.Thank you


    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      9 years ago from US

      Nice views. They have to increase natural birth rate so that they can be self sufficient someday or open up a bit, intermarriage is good and give citizenship based on that. Maita

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      The Qataris are entitled to many very generous benefits, to the extent that they really don't need to work to enjoy a lifestyle few non-Qataris can afford. Education is encouraged by the state (i.e. the Royal family) and many do follow it through. But not so many then want to work their passage to gain experience, preferring to step straight into senior roles for which they are ill-prepared.

      Readjusting to local society is harder for the women, because their freedoms are very limited at home. This is also why many don't wan't to marry within the society.

    • itakins profile image


      9 years ago from Irl

      Quite a few Qatari people seem to come to Ireland(complete with families) for post-grad studies! I heard recently that their government gives a substantial reward to each citizen who gains a Phd-like 100,000 USD-is this so?

      Interestingly,I know a couple of families whose kids had huge difficulty re-adjusting back into society there , so the parents have sent them back here to complete their second level education.Seems to me there's a potential risk of some sort of 'brain drain',if that's a common practise

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      I do know, thanks. Flying fingers, that's all. Did you read on past the typo?

    • IntimatEvolution profile image

      Julie Grimes 

      9 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

      Hey Para, its Egypt not Eygypt. Just thought you'd like to know.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Lilygrillzit - It's a small fast changing society, which makes it fascinating to watch. Thanks for the read :)

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Aya - Qatar has a love-hate relationship with the modern world. One could almost say they like the wealth but fear the gene pool. (Though that too is asymmetric - their men don't mind adding to it but their women mustn't borrow from it). We'll see how it pans out, but the evidence suggests that they are trying at all costs to avoid the scenario you describe.

    • Paraglider profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave McClure 

      9 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Amanda - that's possible. There have been ghost towns before, and will be again. In fact, the recent property bubble bursting almost turned Dubai into a ghost town and might well have done without the Abu Dhabi bailout.

      Many parts of the world will have to make major adjustments soon. Qatar is small enough to make it easy to watch economic and cultural forces at work.

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      9 years ago from Central Oregon

      Thank you for this perspective of your society.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Paraglider, but what's wrong with an empty city? Assuming that the people of Qatar will be able to continue making a profit by exporting oil or gas or whatever they manufacture in those plants with a reduced workforce, in theory every citizen of Qatar can be wealthy and have to work very little for his keep. The arts and sciences can thrive, and every single Qatari can be very important in his own community. Having fewer people means that every one of them has much more influence.

      This seems ideal to me!

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      9 years ago from UK

      'Sooner or later, something has to change'.

      Not just in Qatar, Paraglider, but in the world as a whole.

      This peculiar dilemma of the Qataris will no doubt resolve itself in time, though it's hard to know exactly how. Eventually the Gas and Oil wealth will deplete as the supplies dwindle, and maybe in time, the empty offices and tower blocks will become ruins for future generation of archeologists to visit and marvel at.


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