Debunking Myth: Economic Values in the Arab World Through the Prism of Opinion Polls - Economic Research Forum (ERF)

Debunking Myth: Economic Values in the Arab World Through the Prism of Opinion Polls

Ishac Diwan and Zafiris Tzannatos

June, 2017


31 pages

H1. Structure and Scope of Government
O1. Economic Development

Using World Value Survey opinion poll data, we empirically characterize the economic values and norms held by individuals in the Arab world, in comparison to values held in the rest of the world. We find that, contrary to some common beliefs, there are many values that predispose citizens of Arab countries to be part of a market economy, including a high level of work-ethics, comfort with competition and the work of markets, and a high level of economic motivation. Moreover, it is unlikely that the fear of income redistribution has taxed investment, as opinions among Arab citizens tend to be against redistribution, compared to similar individuals in the rest of the world. However, we also find a few values that are inimical to the workings of a market-led economy, and in particular, low preference for thrift, low levels of acceptance of women’s work outside home, and low trust in state institutions combined with a perception of high levels of corruption both in government and in business. We compare these preferences between citizens of Arab countries vs citizens of Muslim-majority countries, and of oil exporting countries, and find that these groups exhibit distinct preference maps. We also ask whether these values are distributed differently among different types of individuals (with differing education, age, gender, and religiosity) in the Arab world and in other countries around the world.

Research Fellows

Ishac Diwan

Chair Arab World, Paris Sciences et Lettres, visiting researcher at the Paris School of Economics


Zafiris Tzannatos

Economist, American University of Beirut



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