The general perception of Israel’s geographic periphery, namely the country’s North and South, is that these regions contain larger concentrations of the country’s more vulnerable socioeconomic populations. As such, the government has set a number of goals to promote the development of the periphery in general and of specific regions in particular. In 2005, a national strategic plan for the development of the Negev identified four goals to be reached by 2015: increasing the Negev’s population, increasing the number of those employed, reducing the wage gap between the Negev and the rest of Israel, and increasing rates of higher education among the region’s young.
To understand whether these goals have been achieved and to what extent, it is important to conduct an in-depth analysis of trends across sub-groups living within the region and over time. A recently published Taub Center profile of Israel’s Southern district, generously supported by the Mack Ness Fund, does precisely this. Among other things, the study finds that the population in the South has been growing at a faster rate than in the rest of the country, that educational levels are rising and educational inequality between Jews and Arabs is declining in the region, and that residents of the South express higher economic satisfaction than residents in other regions of the country.
In terms of its demographic composition, the population of Israel’s Southern district has grown substantially over the past few decades. This growth has largely been driven by growth in the Arab sector, especially among people currently in their teens and twenties. While Arab fertility levels in the South have fallen sharply over the last 20 years since the birth of these large cohorts, fertility levels are still higher among Arabs than among Jews or “Others” living in the South. Southern District has a higher percentage of “Others”—who do not fall into one of the two major religious groupings—than any other district in the country.
The population in the South has started to grow not only internally from fertility, but also through migration. After many years of net negative migration out of the South – that is, more people moving away from the South than moving to the region – net migration has actually become positive over the last few years. More people are now moving to the South than moving away from it.
Together, these factors mean than the South is poised for rapid growth in the coming years. However, to “make the most,” so to speak, of this demographic wave, it will be important for the region to attract a relatively skilled and educated population that would increase its level of human capital.
In an examination of the type of people moving to the South, the study finds that for a number of characteristics, migrants to and from the South have a similar profile to those in other districts: they tend to be under 40, not Arab, and more educated. However, some characteristics of migrants to and from the South differ from the national norm. For example, the south attracts a disproportionate number of first-generation higher-education graduates, that is, people who have a university degree themselves, but whose parents do not have one. Moreover, educated people are more likely to stay in the South than in other regions. After adjusting for a person’s own education, even those with the most-educated parents had only a 13% chance of moving out of the South, which is about half the national average. Overall, these results imply that the South is relatively “sticky” in that even though it has a harder time attracting people than do other districts, it is good at keeping them.
Meanwhile, there have been notable changes in education levels and labor force participation within the Southern District in recent decades. Educational levels have increased among Jews and Muslims alike. Among Jews in the Southern District ages 30-44, the share with an academic degree increased from 23% in 2000 to 40% by 2017. At the same time, there are indicators that the education inequalities between Jews and Arabs in the South have shrunk quite rapidly. While in every district inequalities have declined, the reduction has been sharpest in the South. Nonetheless, even with these improvements, the share of people aged 30–44 in the South with a university degree remains the lowest in any district in the country.
With regard to the labor market, the South has relatively few high-paying tech jobs, but it does have the highest percentage of employees in well-paid manufacturing positions – in fields such as computers, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and optical and petroleum products – as well as 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. However, it is important to note that in the high-end manufacturing sector, there is an over-representation of secular and traditional Jewish men and women, and “Other” men and women. Similarly, Jewish men dominate the upper-level managerial and public administration sector. In contrast, Arabs and Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) in the South, both men and women, are under-represented in all these higher-paying occupations.
Overall, it appears that there have been significant improvements in human capital and well-paid employment outside of high tech in the South. Furthermore, while residents of the South report low satisfaction with infrastructure in the region and with living conditions, including cleanliness and safety, they report 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.
Together, these findings indicate that Israel’s Southern District, while continuing to face many challenges, has undergone a number of demographic, educational, and employment changes in recent decades that are likely to have an impact on the relative socioeconomic situation of its residents relative to residents throughout the rest of Israel. Better understanding these trends can help policymakers design policy specifically tailored to the needs of Israel’s South to further advance its population.