The employment situation among women aged 35-54 is very different from that of men, both in Israel and in the OECD countries. While men’s non-employment rates increased, women’s non-employment rates dropped considerably. Average rates of non-employment among women in the OECD declined from 47.5 percent in 1979 to 32.0 percent in 2008, a decrease of 15.5 percentage points. The main explanation for the large decline in non-employment rates among women has to do with increased access for women to education and the fact that more women obtain higher education. Higher education is associated with increased income, and as incomes rise, the price of choosing non-employment alternatives rises, encouraging more women to join the labor market. Other factors that decrease non-employment include opening public or subsidized day care centers and kindergartens, laws forbidding discrimination against women, fully or almost fully paid maternity leaves, and the expansion of the service sector in the economy.
The picture among Israeli women is dramatic. In 1979 non-employment among women was 56.0 percent, or 8.4 percent above the corresponding rate in the OECD Within three decades, the non-employment rate among Israeli women aged 35-54 fell to 31.0 percent, a decline of 25.0 percentage points, placing Israeli women in 2008 a full percentage point below the average for women in the OECD.
Two population groups contributed to the decrease in Israeli non-employment among women: non-haredi Jewish women and Israeli Arab women (Figure 5). In 1979 the rate of non-employment among non-haredi Jewish women was 51.2 percent, or 3.7 percent above the corresponding rate in the OECD. By 2008, their rate of non-employment dropped to 21.2 percent – a decline of 30.0 percentage points. The gap in non-employment rates between women in the OECD and non-haredi Jewish women in Israel has reversed since 1979. In 2008, non-employment rates among non-haredi Jewish women were 10.8 percentage points lower than those of the OECD.
Among Arab Israeli women, 2008 non-employment rates were very high (75.7 percent). But 30 years ago, almost all Arab Israeli women of primary working age were not employed (95 percent), so a substantial change in their employment rates has taken place over the past three decades. In fact, from 1990 until 2008, the gap in non-employment rates between Arab Israeli women and non-haredi Jewish women was quite large, but it remained stable: the gap was at 54.3 percentage points in 1990, 54.8 percentage points in 1995, 50.9 percentage points in 2000, 54.6 percentage points in 2005, and 54.5 percentage points in 2008. In other words, for the past two decades, the rate of decrease in non-employment among Arab Israeli women was similar to that of non-haredi Jewish women – though rates of non-employment among Arab Israeli women still have a long way to go before they will resemble those of non-haredi Jewish women.
The main characteristic of non-employment among haredi women is its relative stability over the last three decades. On the one hand, they did not display the rise in non-employment that typified haredi men. On the other hand, they also did not display the substantial decrease in non-employment rates among women that occurred in other countries and in other sectors in Israel. In 1979, rates of non-employment among haredi women were 7.3 percentage points higher than those of non-haredi Jewish women, and in 2008 this gap increased considerably – reaching 32.2 percentage points.