Usually, socioeconomic discussions about the Arab Israeli sector focus on the gaps that still exist between this sector and Jewish Israelis, and don’t emphasize the areas where substantial improvements have been made. In the case of Arab Israeli women – the data point often cited is their low employment rate, which stood at 34% for those aged 25-64 in 2017.
However, recent findings by Researcher Hadas Fuchs show the bigger picture including the large strides that have been made by Arab Israeli women in education and their improvements, though more limited, in employment. Academic achievements are important to the discussion of employment as well given that Arab Israeli women with an academic degree are employed at much higher rates than those without one. At the same time, there are still opportunities for further improvement among this segment of the population.
Already in high school, the percentage of Arab Israeli women qualifying for a bagrut (matriculation exam) surpasses that of Arab Israeli men and is approaching the qualification rate of non-Haredi Jewish women.
Furthermore, the lower socioeconomic status of the Arab Israeli population, on average, seems to contribute to the gaps that remain. When controlling for socioeconomic background, the matriculation rates among all sub-groups of Arab Israeli women are higher than those among Jewish women.
There has been a notable rise in the share of Arab Israeli women enrolling in higher education – particularly notable is an increase of nearly 50% among Bedouin and Druze women between 2008 and 2013 – while there has been almost no change in the enrollment rates of Arab Israeli men. Nonetheless, a smaller share hold a degree than Jewish women; in 2014, about half of Jewish and Arab Christian women aged 30-33 held an academic degree, whereas the percentage of academics was only 23% among Muslim women, 19% among Druze, and 16% among the Bedouin.
Despite the fact that over 70% of Arab Israeli women who qualify for a matriculation certificate study science/engineering majors in high school (compared with only 39% of Jewish women) – subjects associated with a potential for high future wages – by college, they are studying science and engineering at relatively low rates.
Rather, a large percentage of Arab Israeli women pursue degrees in education: 42% among Muslim women and 46% among Bedouin women, compared to only 16% among Jews.
This trend continues on into employment. Among Muslims, Druze, and Bedouin, over 50% of employed female degree-holders work in education, including many women who did not major in education in college. This share is nearly three times higher than the share among Jewish women.
The story of Arab Israeli women in the field of education is a complex one. On the one hand, the average number of working hours of Arab Israeli teachers (men and women) has risen in recent years and the share of women employed part-time decreased, meaning that many women are able to find work and with a large number of hours.
On the other hand, the data show that in the past few years, Arab Israelis who studied education are having trouble finding jobs in the field. While the percentage of Jews who received training in education and have since entered the field of teaching has remained relatively stable over the past decade or so, among Arab Israelis there has been a notable decline.
In addition, demand for Arab Israeli teachers is not expected to grow because Arab Israeli fertility rates are declining, the Arab education system has reached near full enrollment, and the trend of reducing class size has stabilized. Thus, there are indications of an excess of women in the field, which is likely to increase further in the future.
In general, employment rates among Arab Israeli women have increased since the early 2000s, but the increase was similar to the increase among Jewish women, such that the gap between them hardly narrowed.
While the employment rate of those with a degree has remained stable at around 75%, a particularly notable increase occurred among non-academic Arab Israeli women aged 45-54. Nonetheless, the 34% employment rate among those aged 25-64 in 2017 is still far from the target rate set by the government for 2020 – 41%.
Wage gaps between Jews and Arab Israelis are low among graduates with degrees in the fields of health and education (occupations in which most jobs are part of the public sector), but are large among those who studied engineering, computer science, business administration and management.
These data reveal that gaps between Arab Israeli and Jewish women still remain. However, given that Arab Israeli women with an academic degree are employed at much higher rates than those without, there is reason to hope that the strides made in education will be accompanied by improvements in employment in the coming years. This could advance Arab Israeli women and could also be a source of growth for the larger Israeli economy.
In order to confront the challenges that remain and promote this population group, it is possible to consider a number of options, including: improving the Arab education system, advising students to increase awareness of ‘in demand’ professions and providing guidance as they navigate academic studies and enter the labor market, and increasing employment opportunities for workers in Arab Israeli localities and the surrounding areas.