This report, generously supported by the Mack Ness Fund, focuses on changes in the sociodemographic and economic profile of Israel’s Southern District, which broadly includes the Negev. An initial chapter clarifies some introductory themes related to the delineation of these geographic areas, the region’s subpopulations, and the writing period, and it also briefly summarizes some of the major public investments in the South over the last 20 years.
The main body of the report comprises three empirical chapters. These employ a combination of aggregate data and household-based survey data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) to paint a comprehensive picture of several important sociodemographic and economic trends and characteristics. Each chapter is devoted to a particular set of topics that help us understand developments in Israel’s south in the long term. Chapter 2 deals with issues in demographic growth. Chapter 3 discusses household size, migration, and real estate trends. Chapter 4 deals with changes in education selected characteristics of the labor market, particularly the level of labor market participation and relatively high-paying occupations.
Here we summarize the core empirical findings of this report.
Demographic growth and residential patterns
- The South has experienced substantial growth over the last 20 years, though this has largely been driven by growth in the Arab sector, and especially among people currently in their teens and 20s.
- After many years of net negative migration out of the South, migration has become positive over the last few years.
- The South is populated not only by Jews and Muslims, but also by a substantial minority of “Others” who do not fall neatly into one of the two major religious groupings. In fact, there is a higher percentage of “Others” in Southern District than in any other district in the country.
- Arab fertility levels in the South have fallen sharply over the last 20 years — from over 9 children per woman to around 5 today — but that is still much higher than that of Jews and Others (around 3.1 children per woman).
- The South has a much higher percentage of people living outside urban areas (using the CBS definition of 2,000 residents), and that percentage has increased over the last 20 years, which means that rural populations have grown even faster than their urban counterparts. That is unusual in a contemporary developed country.
Together, these factors mean than the South is poised for rapid growth, driven disproportionately by its young Arab population. The issue is: to ride this demographic wave productively, it will help to have, retain, or attract a relatively skilled and educated population.
Household structure, migration to and from the South, and real estate trends
- Alongside the 20% increase in the number of households in the South between 2009–2019, there has been a slight reduction in the share of households that include co-resident adult children, and a slight increase in the number of childless households in general — these latter now account for about 40% of all households.
- Migrants to and from the South have a similar profile to those in other districts in terms of age, ethnicity and education: they tend to be under 40, not Arab, and more educated. However, migrants to and from the South differ from the national norm in terms of parents’ education. After adjusting for a person’s own education, we show that a person aged 20- 39 with the most educated parents — either both have a BA or at least one has a higher degree — had only a 13% chance of moving out of the South, which is about half the national average. This implies that the South is relatively “sticky” — it is better at retaining its highly skilled people than are other districts.
- Likewise, after adjusting for a person’s own education, we show that the probability of in-migration to the South from elsewhere in Israel is higher for people with less educated parents. In other words, the South attracts a disproportionate number of first-generation higher-education graduates.
- People in the South have higher levels of economic satisfaction than people in any other district — with the sole exception of (Jewish) residents of Judea/Samaria. People in the South also outscore residents of Haifa, Central, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Districts on life-satisfaction in general, an index that includes measures of satisfaction with neighbors and family.
- Where the South scores low relative to other districts is on a composite measure of satisfaction with living conditions, including one’s own apartment, the local area, parks, cleanliness and safety. Only residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv do worse on this measure.
- In 2000, the average residence of Jews and others in the South had 3.7 rooms. By 2017, it had increased to 4.2 rooms, on par with residence size in the north, around 0.2 rooms more than in Jerusalem and Haifa districts, and 0.5 rooms more than in Tel Aviv. Only Central District has larger houses on average.
- The real estate market in the South has looked more resilient during the COVID-19 epidemic in terms of number of sales than that of all other districts. The South was the only district in the country in which combined sales in the second and third quarter of 2020 exceeded those of the same quarters in 2017 or 2018. This is a testament to strong ongoing demand. That demand is particularly concentrated in the 4.5–5 room sector, a core family-sized apartment.
Overall, these results point to a significant increase in quality of life in the South over the last couple of decades — from increasingly less cramped households to higher-than-average levels of economic and general satisfaction — that is reflected in both the relatively low outmigration of highly skilled individuals, and the greater readiness to buy into the region, even during the difficult and restrictive period of the COVID-19 epidemic. On the flipside, the higher rates of in-migration among people with less educated parents — including first generation higher-education graduates — suggests that the South is more of a destination of choice for people whose intergenerational stores of wealth are more limited.
Education and employment
- There have been substantial increases in higher education in the South. Among Jews aged 30–44 in Southern District in 2000, around 23% had an academic degree. By 2017, this was true of around 40% of Jews in the same age group.
- There have also been substantial increases in university education among the South’s Muslim population. Among 25–34 year olds, Muslims have 1.5 years less schooling then Jews. That is the same gap as in the North, and smaller than in any other district in the country.
- On the other hand, even with these increases in education, the share of people aged 30–44 in the South with a university degree remains the lowest in any district in the country
Overall labor force participation
- Though the number of hours worked has climbed in Israel in general over the last decade, that increase has been a little sharper on average in the South, though it still somewhat lags behind Central, Tel Aviv and the Northern Districts.
- Within the South, adults classified as “Others” work more hours at all ages up to 60 than either Jews or Muslims. This is true for both men and women. After adjusting for educational attainment, men aged 25–54 who are members of an “Others”-headed household work between 4–10 hours more per week than their counterparts in Jewish-headed household from and between 13–19 hours more per week than their counterparts in Muslim-headed household.
- Among Jews in the South, religiosity is also inversely associated with number of hours worked at almost all ages, with secular Jews working the most, Haredim the least, and the traditional and orthodox in between. Again, this ranking is the same for both men and women at almost all ages.
- Assuming that current age-specific hours worked by members of each subpopulation would remain unchanged, a secular Jewish or Other man will work more hours across his lifetime than either a Haredi couple or Arab couple.
- Although the South has relatively few high-paying tech jobs, it has the highest percentage of employees in well-paid manufacturing positions (computers, electronics, optical, pharmaceuticals, petroleum products), and in upper-level managerial or public administration positions. This suggests that there may be a regional concentration of the types of skill sets required for these occupations.
- There are differences in representation within these occupations across different subpopulations. In the high-end manufacturing sector, there is an over-representation of secular and traditional Jewish men and women, and Other men and women. Jewish men — especially traditional and religious — dominate the upper-level managerial and public administration sector. Arabs and Haredim, both men and women, are under-represented in all these higher-paying occupations.
Overall, therefore, notwithstanding a prior OECD publication that warned about the “low-skill trap” in the South, we have found evidence of significant improvements in human capital, very significant differences in labor force participation across subpopulations, and substantial remunerative employment outside high tech. Alongside that, the South continues to lag all other districts in terms of share of the young adult population with a university degree. Even if it takes a little more time for the fruits of recent and ongoing expansion in its higher education systems, alongside other investments, to ripen, there is no doubt that the efforts are worth it. As it says in Psalms: Those who sow in tears, shall reap in joy.
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