The political and economic accomplishments achieved by the UAE since its formation have been accompanied by a giant leap in social conditions. Investment in its people as the ‘wealth of the nation’ has been a primary focus of the UAE Government’s ambitious programme of modernisation. Today, the citizens of the UAE enjoy a high standard of living and are reaping the benefits of Government investment in infrastructure, housing, education and health services.
Despite this progress, recent Government strategies have outlined the need for further improvements in these and other socio-economic sectors. For example, Emirates Vision 2021 has as its declared outcomes: an ambitious and confident people, a strong federation, a competitive economy and a good quality of life in a generous and sustainable environment. The overarching priority of the UAE Government's Strategy 2011–2013 is to provide citizens with the best possible standard of living by making improvements to education and health-care systems, as well as focussing on community development and the development of Government services. Other specific national strategies focus on the advancement of women, the protection and promotion of motherhood and childhood, and the provision of social and medical services for the elderly.
Although the UAE population in general has been able to integrate modernity and globalisation with traditional values, the impact of social change has been significant, in particular the demographic imbalances brought about by large-scale immigration and urbanisation: the vast majority of the UAE's population resides in urban centres and over 200 nationalities live and work in the UAE.
At the end of 2010, the UAE National Bureau of Statistics estimated that the UAE’s population had reached 8.264 million, a 65 per cent increase on the 2006 figure of 5.01 million. Much of this rise was due to a high demand for labour in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The number of Emirati nationals was estimated to have increased from 851,164 in 2006 to 947,997 in 2010. Forty-two per cent of Emiratis live in Abu Dhabi with 33 per cent residing in Dubai and Sharjah.
According to the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi, that emirate's population grew by an annual average of 7.7 per cent during 2005–2011, one of the highest population growth rates in the world and a marked increase on 4 per cent growth for the 1995 to 2005 period. All of this growth was accounted for by a rise in the expatriate population, which increased by an average of 8.8 per cent annually compared with 3.8 per cent during 1995 to 2005. Growth in the local population slipped to 4.1 per cent in 2005–2011, from 4.6 per cent in 1995–2005. Abu Dhabi Emirate's total population at the end of 2011 was estimated to be 2,120,700 (1,681,600 expatriate residents and 439,100 Emirati nationals), compared with 1.96 million at the end of 2010. In 1975, the total population in Abu Dhabi amounted to 211,812!.Dubai Statistics Centre, on the other hand, estimated its total population in 2011 to be 2,003,170. Both emirates have a preponderance of males in the middle age groups, reflecting the high proportion of migrant workers that flock to the country seeking work.
Despite the challenges that these figures represent, the UAE continues to be a remarkably tolerant, open, harmonious, caring society that cherishes its traditional roots.