When you travel to Jordan, you will experience a significant cultural shift: its population shares certain similarities with its Arab neighbors, but also important differences, and, above all, will be very different from your home country. Therefore, it will be useful for you to know in advance what Jordanian society is like, which we explain in detail in these lines: we talk about its demographic, ethnic, and economic situation, among other details of interest.
The first thing that can be said about Jordanian society is that it is a hospitable and welcoming people, largely thanks to its Bedouin roots. The extreme conditions of the desert have forged a sense of empathy towards others and humility towards oneself that have become hallmarks of the Jordanian population, along with a certain sense of humor that gives even more uniqueness to their character.
You will understand this from the moment you make contact with a Jordanian, not only because of their greeting of Ahlan wa sahlan! (translated as “welcome as family!”), but also because of their exquisite manners, often following a strict protocol that includes offering several cups of tea or coffee.
Jordanian society is becoming increasingly urban: although many people may have in mind the image of the bedouin nomads of the desert, the truth is that the growth rate of the population in large cities is unstoppable, with a percentage of inhabitants that is around 70% of the total population of the country.
Although they are a minority, there is still a part of the population that lives in rural areas or even maintains a nomadic way of life. It is estimated that around 40,000 people continue to live off the scarce resources provided by the desert and its oases, especially their transhumant livestock. However, their ways of life have also adapted to modern times, with semi-nomadic habits and the help of modern means, such as 4x4s.
In addition, Jordanian society is characterized by sustained demographic growth over time: the fertility rate of women is about 2.7 children, although it is true that this rate has been declining year after year since reaching its historical peak in the 1960s, when it was 8 children per woman.
To assess the level of progress of Jordanian society, we can take the United Nations Human Development Index, which weighs a series of economic, health and educational values, mainly. The figure as of 2021 was 0.720, which places the country in 102nd place in the world, with a High HDI rating. This is a value very similar to that of neighboring countries such as Egypt or Lebanon, and similar to that of other countries in the world such as Ecuador or Paraguay, but significantly below Kuwait, Israel, or the United Arab Emirates. The official unemployment rate is usually quite high, between 15% and 25% of the active population, usually.
The society of Jordan is heavily influenced by the Islamic religion, although to a lesser extent than other Middle Eastern countries, as we will see below. Additionally, this influence is becoming diluted among members of the younger generation.
In any case, the state of Jordan is Islamic, with the official recognition of this religion in Chapter 2 of its Constitution. However, there is freedom of worship, although sometimes this freedom of choice may be compromised by tradition and social pressure. It is estimated that around 97% of Jordanians profess the Muslim faith, while 2% are Christians and a tiny minority are Buddhists and of other creeds.
Therefore, the pace of Jordanian society is set by the customs and traditions of Islam, such as the mandatory fasting during the month of Ramadan or the generalization of Friday as the most common day of rest.
Another fundamental aspect of Jordanian society, largely linked to Islam and traditions, is the family, which is considered the basic pillar on which to sustain life in the community. In it, older people occupy a primordial place, subject to the utmost respect. And this would partly explain the good consideration of the country’s Royal Family, conceived as its equivalent in the highest sphere. Marriage is still considered the fundamental aspiration and an almost mandatory step for every Jordanian.
Within the family, women continue to have a fundamental role, responsible for organizing daily life and child-rearing, among other tasks, while men are seen as the more visible face of the family to the community. However, as you can see at a glance, Islamic habits are more relaxed here, such as the use of the veil, which is not as widespread as in other Middle Eastern countries.
Moreover, the country has taken important steps towards gender equality and full integration of women into Jordanian society. Different reforms of the civil code (personal status law) have enshrined these advances, such as women’s right to seek divorce, although this decision involves returning the dowry to the man and a certain social stigma. Polygamy is not illegal, but it is a very rare practice.
This was the first Arab country to allow women to vote in elections, and gender quotas have been approved in some sectors of Jordanian society, such as Parliament. However, there is still much to be done to improve the status of women, especially in the professional and economic fields, as they continue to experience much higher unemployment rates than men.
As we mentioned before, Jordanian society is increasingly integrated into the phenomenon of globalization. This can be particularly observed in large cities and in the younger generations. For example, the massive use of smartphones, the taste for Western-style clothing, or the habit of frequenting international chain stores in large shopping centers.
Another fundamental aspect of Jordanian society is the significant presence of refugees. The hospitality of its people and the stability of the country in the context of the Middle East have attracted Arab neighbors for decades, whose countries have not exactly stood out for their stability.
It is difficult to quantify the exact number, but they undoubtedly number in the hundreds of thousands or even over a million, according to UNHCR data, and this has caused some discomfort among a part of the population, who lament the degradation in the quality of public services and assistance. The main sources of refugees in Jordan are: