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Arab Israeli women make inroads in higher education

Arab Israeli women are gradually managing to close the educational and employment gaps with Jewish Israeli women, a new study shows, but the researchers say still more work needs to be done. The study, by Taub Center researcher Hadas Fuchs, with the assistance of Tamar Friedman-Wilson, shows that the percentage of Arab Israeli women succeeding on the bagrut (matriculation) exam surpasses that of Arab Israeli men, and is approaching that of non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish women. The ultra-Orthodox, with their stress on non-core curricula, traditionally score lower on the exam than their peers.

In addition, there has been an increase in the share of Arab Israeli women pursuing higher education. Alongside these positive trends, however, some areas still need improvement: Arab Israeli women still mainly pursue careers in the saturated field of education. whereas a much smaller segment studies or pursues work in more lucrative fields such as computers and engineering. “A more balanced distribution of fields of study and employment among Arab Israeli women would likely lead to better integration into the labor market and is a potential source of growth for the Israeli economy in the coming years,” the Taub Center said in a statement Sunday.

The study shows that when taking into account the Arab Israeli population’s lower socioeconomic status, the rate of matriculation eligibility among Arab Israeli women is higher than that of Jewish women. In addition, many Arab Israeli women are choosing science and engineering majors in high school subjects that are associated with a potential for high future wages. Over 70% of Arab Israeli women who qualify for a matriculation certificate study these majors, compared with only 39% of Jewish women, the study showed.

The enrollment of Arab Israeli women in higher education institutions also rose significantly between 2008 and 2013, while among Arab Israeli men there was almost no change at all. The largest increase, almost 50%, took place among Bedouin and Druze women. However, despite this increase, gaps still remain between the groups: 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. Given the increase in enrollment rates in recent years, the gap is expected to narrow, the Taub Center said.

The study also shows that a large percentage of Arab Israeli women are pursuing degrees in education: 42% among Muslim women and 46% among Bedouin women, compared to about 20% among Arab Christians and Druze and 16% among Jews. Still, even if a large portion of Arab Israeli women major in science in high school, the share of those who continue to study these fields in higher education is low. Some 31% of Jewish women pursue sciences in higher education, while just 21% of Arab Christian women, 22% of Druze women and only 9% of Muslim women do so.

The improvement in educational achievements, which has narrowed the gaps between Arab Israeli and Jewish women, is however not yet reflected to the same degree in employment, the study showed. The rise in the employment rate of Arab Israeli women aged 25-54 is not as high as expected: their employment rate rose to 35% in 2016, from 21% in 2000, compared with a similar increase among Jewish women, whose employment rate is, however, 80%.

Interestingly, the employment rate of Arab Israeli women aged 45-54 with no academic education rose from 10% to 20%. Among Arab Israeli women with an academic degree, the employment rate stands at about 75% and has not changed much over the past decade.

“The low employment rate among all Arab Israeli women is surprising given their improvements in the realm of education,” the Taub researchers said in the statement. “The employment rate in the 25-64 age group was 34% in 2017, which is still far from the target rate set by the government for 2020 – 41%. However, the increase in the share of Arab Israeli women pursuing higher education likely indicates an improvement in their integration into the labor market in the coming years, since the employment rate of Arab Israeli female academics is much higher than that of women without an academic education.”

The Taub Center study also found that a particularly high percentage of Arab Israeli women work in the field of education: over 50% of Muslim, Bedouin, and Druze women who have an academic degree — more than three times the share of Jewish women degree-holders employed in this field. This figure also includes many Arab Israeli women who earned a degree in a subject other than education, but work in the field nonetheless.

So, even if the study points to the “great potential for further growth” in the workforce for Arab Israeli women due to their increased share in higher education, there are many challenges that remain. The scores of Israeli Arab women on psychometric exams are still low and they have low proficiency in the Hebrew language. In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Aharon Aharon, the head of the Israel Innovation Authority, said Israeli Arabs could account for as much as 20% of the local technology force.

Since 2012, the government has set up a number of programs to help Arab Israelis integrate into the labor market and the high-tech industry in an effort to boost economic growth and reduce income inequality. Just 5.7% of Arab Israelis are employed in the high-tech industry and only 2% of those are employed in R&D, according to Israel’s Innovation Authority 2016 report.

The Taub researchers said it is possible to confront the challenges faced by the Arab population in several ways: by improving the Arab education system; advising students to increase awareness of professions that are in demand; 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.

“We decided to publish a brief that deals with the education and employment of Arab Israeli women in preparation for International Women’s Day and in light of the government goals to promote the Arab Israeli population in the coming years,”  Taub Center executive director Prof. Avi Weiss said in the statement. “Alongside improving trends, there are problematic areas and barriers facing Arab Israeli women, who could be a significant source of growth in the Israeli economy in the coming years. Therefore it is very important to pay attention to this topic.”

The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, nonpartisan socioeconomic research institute.

Shoshanna Solomon