Traditional Muslim extended families can be very large. It is not unusual for four generations to live together. In a society undergoing rapid changes, the family provides security, advice and comfort. The support offered by extended families means that there is a limited need for institutions such as seniors' homes or daycare centres in Emirati society.

The life of the family is kept extremely private. In the traditional Arab world the family is a tight unit where children respect their parents and the roles of men and women are clearly defined.

Although men and women have different roles, women have not always simply stayed at home. In the traditional societies that existed before the discovery of oil, women played an active role in agriculture. In the coastal areas where fishing and pearling were the main occupations, men were often away from home for long periods of time. Women were left to raise children, care for the old, look after crops and livestock and deal with tribal matters.
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The UAE has created a Marriage Fund to enable Emirati men to meet the high costs of marrying Emirati women.

In traditional culture, when a man wants to get married, he must ask his prospective bride's father for permission. The two then agree on a bride-price or mahr. When the mahr is settled, a lawyer or religious leader draws up a marriage contract. Although the couple is legally married after the marriage contract has been completed, they do not live together as partners until after the wedding ceremony.

According to Emirati tradition, marriages are carefully arranged within a small social group. The ideal marriage is considered to be between a man and his father's brother's daughter. Although arranged marriages are still common in the Emirates, other forms of marriage have emerged. Today, more attention is paid to developing a close relationship between partners. The position of women is also changing. Some women in the Emirates who want to pursue higher education and a career may choose to marry later or not to marry at all.

Weddings are occasions for some of the most colourful celebrations in the Emirates. The bride's house is often decorated with thousands of lights. Feasts are held that may continue for several days. For members of prominent families, the celebration extends beyond family and friends. Public entertainment is usually arranged, including dances, camel races and musical performances.

Life is different for residents of the Emirates who are not Emirati nationals. People from all over the world come to work in various jobs, from domestic help to construction to consulting. Although some expatriates bring their families with them, many live alone on a reduced budget and send their money to their families in other countries.