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Demography. Relative to its size and oil wealth, the UAE has a small population, estimated at 2,624,000 in 1997. Before 1970, the local population was tiny (estimated at eighty-six thousand in 1961) and lacked most of the technical skills needed for a modern society. The commercial production of oil triggered rapid population growth as a result of an increase in the national population from improvements in diet, health care, and living standards and the importation on a large scale of mostly male foreign laborers. The latter factor has generated a dependence on expatriate labor; the UAE has become a multiethnic society, and Emirati nationals account for only about 20 percent of the population. This has created an imbalanced population composition in favor of males; in 1997, there were 1,755,000 males and 869,000 females.

Two new books, The Vanishing Neighbor by Marc Dunkelman, and Susan Pinker’s forthcoming The Village Effect , mine the data and sound loud warnings. The health aspects are alarming enough for Pinker, a Montreal-based developmental psychologist, to have changed her own habits of a lifetime. She argues that humans need face-to-face contact, as they need air and water. We have evolved for it, to the extent that those surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends who regularly gather to eat—and, crucially, gossip—live an average of 15 years longer than loners. Quality face-to-face contact is essential for a social species, Pinker writes, citing research that shows it fortifies immune systems, calibrates hormones and increases chances of surviving heart attacks, strokes, AIDS and cancer. “People with the most integrated social lives—overlapping relationships among friends, family, sports and other recreational or religious pursuits—have the best prognoses,” with the most life-threatening diseases. It’s true even with dementia: A 2004 Swedish study found its lowest prevalence among those with the most extensive social networks.


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