DUBAI // Rising divorce and dropping birth rates, and a decline in use of the Emirati dialect, are among the greatest problems facing national identity, experts warn.
A study by Zayed University showed birth rates have this year dropped to an average of two children in each family, from seven in the 1970s, a forum at the National Research Foundation was told.
In that time, the average age for marriage had risen to 26 from 20, with many men waiting even longer, until they were between 30 and 35.
And the forum, which gathered academics from Zayed University, the University of Sharjah, UAE University and the American University in Sharjah, heard there were 3,700 Emirati marriages in Abu Dhabi in 2009, but also 1,100 divorces.
Dr Mouawiya Al Awad, the head of Zayed University's institute of social and economic research, said the rising divorce rate was eroding the extended family unit, as was an increasing tendency by Emirati males to live in one emirate but work in another. About 80 per cent of Emirati males work in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
But Dr Al Awad said there were positive aspects to the research, such as a riser in the number of women in higher education and employment.
"There has been a huge improvement in the participation of females in economic activities but it's low by world standards," he said.
The research showed 65 per cent of unemployed Emiratis were aged 15 to 19, and most were female.
Dr Al Awad also warned language issues were causing a growing gap between the generations.
The local dialect had become watered down by a combination of modern Arabic and English over recent years, and this process was being accelerated by the rise of social media and technology.
This was putting a further strain on traditional values, Dr Al Awad said.
Dr Rima Sabban, a sociologist from Zayed University, said the decline of Arabic and specifically the Emirati dialect, was having an adverse effect on national identity.
Dr Sabban said that in periods of swift social developments in any country, such as during the industrial revolution in England, it was common to see a corresponding development of the local language.
However, she said the recent experience in the UAE went contrary to this, as the Emirati dialect was being used less than before.
"It's an alarming point, especially when you take that to the family," Dr Sabban said. "I'd like to see more research on that, how language affects the cohesion of the family, where we are witnessing young children who can't talk to their grandmothers and grandfathers."
Dr Mohammed Al Baili, the dean of humanities and social sciences at UAE University, said research in these issues was becoming increasingly important and that many projects were being supported by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the Emirates Foundation.
"We hear a lot through the media that isn't based on research. They are the impressions of people witnessing social problems or issues," Dr Al Baili said.
"Now social issues and problems have become like the weather. Everyone talks about it but only a few of us understand how the weather changes.
"As social scientists, we have to have an input, helping society understand these issues. We have a commitment to make to society to investigate the issues affecting it."