Quality of Life, the UAE's Biggest Draw in 2019

Quality of life is the single biggest reason why you choose to live in the UAE. While the answers have remained broadly the same over the last few years, it is less about the money than it has ever been.
This article is part of an editorial series on Happiness Survey 2019
Happiness Survey 2019
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Happiness Survey 2019
This article is part of an editorial series on Happiness Survey 2019

Since 2014 we have been asking why you choose to live in the UAE. While the answers have remained broadly the same, we are seeing trends that can at least partly explain why you are happier than you have ever been.

As with last year the survey shows that the motivations for living in the UAE are becoming less about salary and benefits, and more about quality of life. Today, you are in the UAE not because of any golden handcuffs, but increasingly because you just like what the country offers you. Somewhat understandably, and fortunately, the less you have and earn, the more this is statistically likely to be true.

Let's look at the trends. We begin with those factors that have moved in a single direction since our first Happiness Survey, taken in 2014.

Your children's quality of life has risen in importance as a reason you choose to live in the UAE with every survey taken thus far. It is now in double digits, chosen by 10.3% of you, up from 6% in 2014. Many of the fundamentals have not changed since this time - the weather, the beaches, the parks, etc, are, by and large, the same. However, a lot has improved. School choice has changed dramatically in the last five years, as have the number of options available to students outside the school gates.

Career opportunity is still the second most important reason you choose to live in the Emirates, but it has declined in importance with each successive survey. In 2014, almost 20% of you cited it as the prime reason you choose the UAE, that declined to 16.4% last year, and this year has fallen again to 16 percent.

This does not mean that you perceive your career as any less important than you did five years ago. It is just that in 2019 other factors have risen in importance in their ability to tether you to the country.

Dubai's low taxation environment is not one of these factors. It too has also plummeted as an anchor point, dropping from 7.35% (2014) to 3.82% (2018) to 2.96% this year. This is for two reasons. Most obviously, there are more charges and taxes in the UAE than there have ever been before; but, more positively, it is also because the value of living in the UAE is no longer measured purely in terms of financial gain.

This can be seen in the fact that pay has also fallen in importance, chosen by 8.7% of respondents, a fall of over 3% since last year. Again, this does not mean you don't care about remuneration - clearly you do. It is just, for ever greater numbers of you, it is not the overriding consideration for your stay in the UAE. Note, while pay has not fallen in the UAE, it would be true to say there are less families in the UAE enticed here on large expat salaries. This is not just an Emirates reality, but one we see in all of the expat markets we are in. 

As we approach the end of the year many of Dubai's biggest construction projects for 2020 have been handed over: Residential projects have been delivered, retail outlets opened, while landscaping and beautification projects continue apace across the country. Last year Dubai in particular felt up in the air, a work in progress, incomplete with road work and construction breaking up the routines of every day life. This year a new normality is beginning to bed down, peace is returning, and the delivered projects are making the city a much nicer place to live in.

It is not a surprise therefore "Standard of Life" has seen the biggest increase in respondents choosing it as the single most important reason as to why they live in the country. It declined last year, but has shot back up, surpassing even 2014, and now is chosen by over 30% of respondents.

Last year it was chosen by 20% of respondents, down from 24.72% in 2014.

This will also have been helped by the fact that we know that many of the UAE's residents have been able to upgrade where they live as rental and home purchase prices have declined.

"The drop in prices have given Dubai residents a choice of properties with more bedrooms, better locations and improved facilities, which are now within their budget... The decline in rental prices has also given residents more control and stability in the city. It is encouraging to see so many people starting families and really settling into life in Dubai... 51% of our tenants have decided to upgrade and move to a home which was previously out of their reach...” - Allsopp & Allsopp

Finally, we should add some nuance. If we slice the data by income, by nationality, by area, by whether people are homeowners or renters... we do see considerable differences.

37% if Indian residents, for example, cite Standard of Life as their primary reason to live in the UAE, compared to 29% of British respondents or 11% of Filipinos. 16% of Brits, who are more likely (although still unlikely) to get an expat salary than the other big nationality groupings in the UAE, say career opportunity is the reason they live in the UAE, compared to 11% of Indians or 50% of respondents from the Philippines. Interestingly, 22% of South Africans live in the UAE because "the alternative is worse". A third of South Africans also choose the UAE because of a lack of crime, compared to just 6% of North Americans, 5% of Brits, or 20% of Pakistanis.

Clearly, the advantages of the UAE are very relative to where you have come from.

As household income rises, so too - perhaps unsurprisingly - does interest in Dubai's lower taxation environment, career opportunities and higher pay. Those that earn less, are more likely to appreciate the simpler things that are more difficult to measure - the lack of crime, the UAE's standard of life, even the weather...

Many of these differences are seen even more strongly not by what keeps you in the UAE, but by your biggest concerns in remaining. We turn to this next.

Next: Your biggest concerns with the UAE


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

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