Syrian Refugees In Jordan: Demographics, Livelihoods, Education, and Health

Caroline Krafft, Maia Sieverding, Colette Salemi, and Caitlyn Keo

Economic Research Forum Working Paper Series, No. 1184 (2018)


This paper profiles the Syrian refugee population in Jordan in terms of demographic characteristics, participation in the labor market, education, and health outcomes. The authors rely on data from the Jordan Labor Market Panel Survey (JLMPS) of 2016, which over-sampled areas identified as having a high proportion of non-Jordanians in the 2015 census. The authors define refugee households broadly as those who had at least one adult household member who either: (a) is currently registered as a refugee and arrived in Jordan in 2011 or later, or (b) left a previous residence in 2011 or later due to violence, conflict, or a lack of security. They then consider all other members of the household to also be refugees. Using this definition, 93 percent of Syrians in Jordan are considered refugees. Key findings:

  • Syrian refugees in Jordan are disproportionately young, with 48 percent of the refugee population under age 15. There were notably few older adults among Syrian refugees. Men aged 20-34 were under-represented relative to women, potentially due to their decision to remain in Syria to fight, differential mortality rates in the course of the conflict, or men choosing to claim asylum elsewhere.
  • Syrian refugees had larger households on average (5.2 members compared to 4.6 members for Jordanian households) driven by a larger number of children in the household not non-nuclear members. Young children, aged 0-5, were present in 64 percent of Syrian refugee households compared to 41 percent of Jordanian households, and older children, aged 6-17, were present in 70 percent of Syrian refugee households and 48 percent of Jordanian households.
  • Syrian refugee families were more likely to have a female head of household (23 percent of refugee households) than Jordanian families (14 percent of Jordanian households). Among currently married Syrian refugees, 9 percent had an absent spouse.
  • The large majority of Syrian refugees (83 percent) lived in Jordanian host communities in urban areas, compared to 4 percent in host communities in rural areas and 13 percent in official camps.
  • More than half (51 percent) of Syrian refugees (aged 6 and over) arrived in 2013, 9 percent arrived at the onset of the conflict in 2011, 28 percent arrived in 2012, and only 13 percent arrived in 2014 or later, partly due to the government’s decision to close the northern border to asylum-seekers in 2015.
  • Refugees’ settlement location has varied by year of arrival. Almost all (97 percent) who arrived in 2011 lived in host communities in 2016. The percentage of Syrian refugees residing in official camps, as of 2016, increased progressively for later arrivals, as border authorities became more adept at directing asylum-seekers directly to formal camps, and as conditions for leaving camps became more restrictive.
  • 16 percent of refugees were internally displaced in Syria before coming to Jordan.
  • Despite the availability of work permits, only 19 percent of refugees are working (compared to 32 percent of Jordanians), primarily in informal employment and working without permits. 38 percent of Syrian men aged 15-64 are working (compared to 55 percent of Jordanian men) and 3 percent of Syrian women are working (compared to 11 percent of Jordanian women). The unemployment rate was 17 percent for Syrian refugee men (compared to 13 percent for Jordanian men). Among male Syrian refugees, 40 percent in host communities were employed compared to 24 percent in camps. Unemployment was particularly high among men in refugee camps. Most employed Syrians were engaged in informal regular wage work (53 percent of employed Syrian men, compared to 13 percent of employed Jordanian men) and irregular wage work (28 percent of employed Syrian men, compared to 6 percent of employed Jordanian men). Jordanian men were primarily engaged in public sector wage work (42 percent), which Syrians cannot access. To a certain extent, Jordanians and non-Jordanians are segmented into different parts of the labor market; Syrians may be competing with other migrant workers more so than Jordanians. Jordanians competing in the same sectors as Syrian refugees and other nationalities are likely to be the poorest and least educated. Among employed Syrian refugees, 43 percent had a permit to work (73 percent of those employed in the formal sector, and 40 percent of Syrian refugees in the informal sector).
  • Syrian refugees aged 6-22 were enrolled in school at much lower rates than Jordanians. The enrollment gap widened considerably and persisted for those older than 10 years. Typically, Syrian refugees did not return to school once they left.
  • Among women, Syrian refugees and Jordanians had comparable self-rated health. Jordanian men had similar self-rated health to both groups of women. However, Syrian refugee men had worse health than all other groups from their teens up through their 30s. For both men and women, Syrian refugees had higher rates of chronic illness than Jordanians starting at age 25. Refugees have limited access to health insurance and although most do access health services, they are more likely than Jordanians to rely on charitable organizations and pharmacies as their usual source of care.
  • Despite food support, refugees suffer from higher levels of food insecurity, particularly those residing in camps.