Employment Among Arab Women Increases to 40 Percent

Employment Among Arab Women Increases to 40 Percent

January 7, 2019

Arab women have long been one of the most underrepresented groups in Israel’s labor market. The combination of lack of supportive infrastructure such as childcare and public transportation, a shortage of relevant jobs in the Galilee and Negev where most Arab citizens live, traditional family structures, inadequate education and training, and barriers to the mainstream economy, has kept the employment rate among Arab women very low. However, recent years have seen advances in economic development of Arab society, including enhanced access to education and to the general labor market. These advances are the result of the work of numerous civil society organizations and, over the past few years, of concerted government efforts to improve economic development for Arab society, with a specific goal of enhancing Arab women's employment.

Employment among Arab women in Israel has risen 6 percent in the past two years, with rates reaching 40 percent as of the end of 2018, ahead of government targets.[1] This sharp rise in employment results, to a large extent, from a major decade-long increase in the education level of Arab women, which has been a focus of the Israeli government and of many within Arab society, and stands in contrast to the “relative stagnation” in education levels among Arab men in Israel, according to a new report by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.

The report, “Israel’s Labor Market: An Overview,” is a chapter from the Taub Center’s State of the Nation Report 2018. It states that employment rates in Israel are continuing to rise, with overall unemployment at 3.4 percent. The employment rate of Arab women is now close to the 2020 target of 41 percent set in 2010 by the government, and has nearly doubled since 2003. While employment among Arab men is at nearly 80 percent, half of this population work in what the report calls “skilled trades” in industry, construction and agriculture, with low wages. Furthermore, the physically demanding nature of many of these jobs means that employment rates drop steeply for Arab men over age 50, while existing jobs are at risk of being lost to increasing computerization. As a result of these gaps, average wages of Arab men are almost half that of the average wages of non-Haredi Jewish men (around NIS 6,800 compared with around NIS 12,500). “These figures underscore the importance of upgrading the education level of Arab Israeli men,” the report states.

The Israeli government has made a priority of advancing Arab society’s economic development, which is regarded as essential to ensuring Israel’s continued economic growth. Arab society is the poorest group in Israel, with a high number of single-income households. Bringing more women into the labor market, by developing supportive services, promoting greater job opportunities and enhancing their access to education, is considered one of the most effective way to close income gaps between Jews and Arabs.  

Over the past decade, the Council for Higher Education has focused on enhancing access to higher education for Arab citizens as a means of improving their socio-economic prospects and integration. The resulting significant increase in the number of Arab citizens pursuing higher education has been mainly among women, while the rate of Arab men enrolling in college or university has remained nearly the same. As of 2017, Arab women comprised 12 percent of Israeli undergraduate students, up from 9 percent in 2009. According to the report: "These developments herald a cultural change in Arab Israeli society. Arab Israeli women are more interested in joining the labor market."

At the same time, though Arab women have significantly advanced in higher education, they tend to concentrate in a few traditional fields they believe will ensure continued employment, such as education, even though jobs are no longer as readily available in those fields as in previous years. A Taub policy brief from March 2018, “Arab Women Entering the Labor Market,” reported that Arab girls in high school are studying majors that are associated with high future earnings potential, largely science and engineering, at about double the rate of their Jewish counterparts. Among Arab high school students, there is a female majority in most science and engineering tracks, which is not the case among Jewish students. However, these Arab girls then do not continue to pursue these studies when continuing on to college or university as, historically, Arab women have not worked in related fields. Given the correlation between increased education and employment, the new report encourages further diversification of fields of study by Arab women, such as technology and engineering, which are fields in demand by a national high-tech industry that is facing a labor shortage.

The Israeli high-tech sector still only employs negligible numbers of Arab women. The report attributes this in part to geography: most high-tech employment is in the center of the country, while 42 percent of Israel’s Arab population lives in the north. The report encourages the integration of all Israeli population groups into the high-tech industry, which faces a labor shortage, in order to ensure its continued growth.

The authors of the new report state that the high income potential of employment in fields related to science and engineering could encourage other Arab women to broaden their educational choices, improving Arab society’s overall socio-economic status. The March report suggested that in order for Arab women to decide to break into non-traditional sectors, they will need support mechanisms that can help them as they enter different fields.


[1] Figures do not include Bedouin living in unrecognized settlements.

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