First, some good news: We are seeing a slow creep upwards in terms of household income. This may not necessarily mean of course households in the UAE are better off in general, but it can help explain why the survey is recording higher levels of happiness than in the past. The number of respondents earning 15,000 AED and below has now fallen for three surveys in a row, with the biggest gains in upper middle income households earning between 30,000 and 50,000 AED monthly.
This year has also seen big tick upwards in terms of the number of respondents that think their salary in the UAE is much better that that they could expect to earn in their home country. 37.21% of respondents say their salary is Much Better (up from 30.15%), and 38.48% Better (down from 41.48%) than they could earn at home. We are still not quite at 2014 levels where 37.89% thought their current salary with benefits was much better, and 41.2% better than in their home country, but we're not far off.
This can partly be explained by the increasing number of respondents saying that they benefited from a pay rise this year. Over one in four of you (26.54%) received a rise, up sharply from 18% last year. We are, however, still a long way off 2014, a boom year, where almost 38% of respondents received a rise.
We're also a long way off the kind of rises we saw during the UAE's peak growth years. In 2014, 11.7% of respondents had a rise above 15%, and 16.3% of respondents received a rise of between 10 and 15%. Last year, 3% received a rise of more than 15%, and 7% of between 10 and 15%. The vast majority (83%) of respondents received a rise of 5% or less. This makes sense: Inflation is (officially) lower (even if it does not always feel like it), and companies far more aware of the need to protect their margins.
Employers are aware, however, that pay is one of the most important tools they have in staff retention. While the number of respondents saying they would rethink their stay in the UAE should they not get a pay rise declined in 2019, still 54.7% of respondents say they would be more likely to leave the UAE if they do not get one.
The good news, however, is that 54.7% of respondent households are able to save money, meaning that either salaries are keeping up with rising costs, or spend in the economy is being squeezed. The percentage of saving households is actually up on last year, when 51.34% of households said they were able to save. It is still down from 2014, when 56.68% of households were saving.
If anyone us under any illusion this is unimportant think again - over 9 in 10 respondents say they are in the UAE to save money. This figure has held remarkably constant across survey years. In this regard it is interesting to note that a much larger percentage of respondents think VAT has impacted their life in the UAE than we would have thought, with 65.4% of respondents saying it has made an impact on their finances.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is interesting see a bifurcation between how residents feel materially in the UAE, and how they feel more generally about their standard of life. In terms of a material lifestyle, there is a decline in the number of respondents thinking they are better off in the UAE, with the numbers thinking they are "better off" in the UAE falling from 79% in 2014, to 70.63% last year, and 62.85% this year. However, in terms of overall standard of life, 67.3% of respondents think they are better off in the UAE than in their home country, up from 62.4% last year, and from 65% in 2014.
This will be one of the main reasons why we continue to see a rise in the number of long term expats. The number of respondents expecting to remain in the UAE for two years or less is the lowest since we began the Happiness Survey (it has fallen by 6%), while the numbers expecting to be here more than 16 years is the highest it has ever been - up over 4% on last year... The UAE, for many, is increasingly for life...
Happiness 2019 Index
Happiness Rises Across the UAE
Why You Choose to Live in the UAE
Your Biggest Worries Living in the UAE
Who is the Happiest in the UAE?
The UAE and Kids, a Great Mix
Property Ownership - Happiness and Stress
Happiness and Money in 2019
Happiness and Employment in 2019
Happiness and the Expo Effect