Bahrain has one of the highest standards of living in the Gulf. Despite modernization and rapid economic development in recent decades, Bahrain retains many aspects of traditional Arab culture and lifestyle. Bahraini family life has been influenced by the traditions of tribal Bedouin society and by Islamic ideals and beliefs, which provide the foundation for the country's customs, laws and practices. About 30% of the population live in Manama and Al-Muharraq. Manama, the capital, is a modern, cosmopolitan city. Al-Muharraq is a more traditional city, with narrow, winding streets.

According to Islamic law, women are expected to be covered from head to toe in public. In the cities, many Bahraini women wear an abbaya (black coat) over modern clothes. On more formal occasions they wear more colourful garments, often with gold embroidery. Village women often wear a thobe (long dress) over baggy pants. Male traditional dress is a full-length coat; winter coats are made of dark wool and summer coats of white cotton. Underneath, they wear serwaal (light cotton trousers). On more formal occasions, men wear a light woollen bisht (cloak) in beige or black, usually edged with gold embroidery. The traditional headdress for men is a crocheted ghafeyah (cap), on top of which is worn a ghutrah (scarf), held in place with an agaal (a black wool headband).

The lives of Bahraini women are not as restricted as those of women in many other Gulf countries. One explanation for this is the culture of the pearling industry that dominated the local economy for thousands of years. Because men stayed out at sea on pearling boats for up to four months at a time, women took on more responsibility.

Weddings are festive events. If they take place in a village, the whole village is usually invited. City weddings may have as many as 500 or 600 guests. Traditionally there is one celebration for men and another for women. The wedding may take up to three days, including a religious ceremony, large meals for family and friends and a party for the women, at which women decorate the hands and feet of the bride with henna. A woman does not take her husband's name after marriage, but keeps her family name.

Many people from other countries live in Bahrain: 13% of the population is South Asian and Southeast Asian (from India, Pakistan and the Philippines), 10% is Arab from other countries and 8% is Iranian. Most of these immigrants come to work in Bahraini businesses.

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Traditionally, the marriage transaction centred on the pearl. The groom would decorate a plain wooden chest with carved brass and fill it with pearls specially gathered for his bride. The chest, which was originally the diver's chest for storing his catch, was given in marriage to the bride. The pearl was associated with fertility.