Education and Employment Trends Among Ethiopian Israelis

Press Release – not for publication until June 25, 7:00

A new Taub Center study points to an improvement in education and employment among the younger generation of Israelis of Ethiopian origin in comparison to the older generation. However, there is still a long road ahead to close the gaps between them and the rest of the Jewish population.

Highlights from the study:

  • 9% of Ethiopian Israelis who moved to Israel at an older age are employed in occupations that require high-skilled workers, compared to 21% of Ethiopians who were born in Israel or moved as young children and 39% of the rest of the Jewish population (according to the most recent data available).
  • 20% of Ethiopian Israelis who were born in Israel or moved at a young age hold an academic degree, as compared to 40% of the rest of the Jewish population in Israel.
  • Among employed Israelis of Ethiopian origin who moved to Israel after the age of 12, about 50% of women and 17% of men work in cleaning or kitchen services, rates dramatically higher than among other segments of the population.
  • For Ethiopian Israelis with an academic degree, rates of labor market integration into occupations that demand highly skilled workers are similar to the rest of the Jewish population, with the exception of underrepresentation in management positions.

Hadas Fuchs and Gilad Brand, researchers from the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, studied the education and employment characteristics of Israelis of Ethiopian origin between the years 1998 and 2011.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the gross monthly cash income for Ethiopian Israeli households was about NIS 11,453 – about 35% less than the average population income of about NIS 17,711 per household. This gap can be explained by the findings of this study, which indicate that the education levels of Israelis of Ethiopian origin are lower than those among the rest of the Jewish Israeli population. Likewise, their labor market status is less favorable in regards to their professions and wages alike.

Education gaps between Ethiopian Israelis and the rest of the Jewish population are shrinking, but are far from disappearing entirely.

The rate of Ethiopian Israelis with a bagrut certificate is 53%, compared to 75% among the general population of Jewish high school students.

Fuchs and Brand from the Taub Center examined the education of the Ethiopian Israeli population compared to the rest of the Jewish population and found that deep gaps exist both at the high school and university levels. The rate of Ethiopian Israelis who qualify for a bagrut certificate reached 53%, compared to 75% among all students tested in the Hebrew-speaking school systems.

The Taub Center study found substantial educational gaps in the share of academic degree-holders across various groups. Of the Ethiopian Israelis born in Israel or who moved at a young age, only 20% hold an academic degree – half the rate (40%) among the rest of the Jewish population in Israel. The academic education rate among Ethiopian Israelis who moved to Israel after the age of 12 is only 6%, and most of these 6% actually arrived in Israel between the ages of 13 and 18.

English figure 1

A more encouraging finding is the improvement in the high school education of the young generation that was educated in Israel, compared to the older generation. The high school graduation rate among Ethiopian Israelis who moved to Israel at an older age is only 36%. In comparison, the rate of high school graduates among those who were educated in Israel is about 90%, a similar rate to the rest of the Jewish population.

Employment: high employment rates but with lower wages

There has been a significant rise in the employment rates of Ethiopian Israeli women, but most are employed in low-wage jobs.

Fuchs and Brand from the Taub Center found that the employment rate among Ethiopian Israelis at prime working ages (25-54) rose substantially over the past decade and stabilized in the years 2009-2011 at 72% – only slightly lower than the employment rate of the non-Ethiopian Jewish population, in which the employment rate is about 79%. This rise is true for males and females alike, though among women the increase was particularly sharp; only about 35% of Ethiopian Israeli women were employed between 1998 and 2000, compared to 65% between 2009 and 2011.

The improvement in employment for Ethiopian Israelis can be seen in the scope of work hours, as well. The number of employees holding part-time positions decreased rapidly over the past few years among this population, and occurred in parallel to an increase in the employment rate – that is, both the employment rate and the scope of full-time employment have grown.

Only 9% of Ethiopian Israelis who arrived in Israel at an older age are employed in occupations that demand high-skilled workers.

Along with the rise in employment rates, it is important to understand the occupations in which Ethiopian Israelis are employed. The Taub Center researchers found that among adults aged 30-35 (the age group selected in order to ensure the reliability of the sample) only 9% of the Ethiopian Israeli population that arrived in Israel at an older age is employed in occupations that require highly skilled workers, compared to 39% among the remainder of the Jewish population (including management positions).

As is the case with the education findings, the employment characteristics of Ethiopian Israelis who were educated in Israel are better than those who arrived at an older age. Nevertheless, gaps still exist between them and the rest of the Jewish population. About 21% of those Ethiopian Israelis educated in Israel are situated in the top levels of the labor market, as compared to about 40% among the rest of the Jewish population, and about 60% are employed in occupations for low-skilled or unskilled workers, compared to 41% among the rest of the Jewish population.

Furthermore, Fuchs and Brand discovered a relatively high employment rate for cleaning and kitchen services among Ethiopian Israelis who arrived in Israel at an older age – 50% of the women and 17% of the men are employed in this field of work. It is important to emphasize that this finding is relevant only for those who arrived after 12 years of age; the employment rates in cleaning and kitchen services among the Ethiopian Israelis who were educated in Israel is similar to the rest of the population (3.9%). A more comprehensive test conducted by the researchers demonstrated that the probability of working in cleaning is highly correlated to years lived in Israel and age of arrival. The probability of working as a cleaner is higher among those who have spent fewer years in Israel and arrived at a later age (up until 20 years of age).

English figure 2

In order to test for the presence of discrimination that would make it more difficult for Ethiopian Israelis to integrate into the labor market, Fuchs and Brand from the Taub Center checked the employment characteristics of those with an academic degree. They found that among this group of Ethiopian Israelis, there is no substantial difference from the rest of the population, with the exception of lower representation in management positions. In other words, those with an academic degree generally integrate into positions that require higher education.

English figure 3

Similarly, when examining the wages of Ethiopian Israelis with an academic degree, one can see that despite their integration into the upper echelons of the labor market, their income is lower than other earners in this category. These gaps apparently are caused by a high concentration in the academic majors and professions with relatively lower wages. For example, many Ethiopian Israelis with an academic degree who are categorized as working in “occupations requiring a high skill level” have chosen careers as social workers and teachers, where the wages are relatively low. This finding suggests that there may be less access to the academic majors and professions considered more prestigious and which lead to higher wages. Thus, higher education in and of itself is not sufficient to close gaps, but there must be an effort to ensure that there is proper representation of Ethiopian Israelis in the fields of study that will allow them to integrate into higher paying jobs.

Taub Center Researcher Hadas Fuchs summarizes: “The Ethiopian Israeli community is worse off than the rest of the Jewish population. That being said, there are substantial differences between those who moved to Israel at a later age and those who grew up in Israel. The former are characterized by low education levels, and though they integrated into the labor force, they did so at the bottom of the labor market. Take for example the years 2006-2011, during which half of the employed women who arrived in Israel after the age of 12 worked in cleaning or kitchen services. The education levels of Ethiopian Israelis who were educated in Israel along with the rest of the Jewish population are improving with time. Beyond that, the rate of Ethiopian Israelis who are working in a profession that matches their academic degree is similar to the rest of the Jewish population, though there is low representation in the professions with the highest relative wages and in management positions.”

Researcher Gilad Brand expands and explains, “It is implied that the relatively low education rates in the Ethiopian Israeli community are the main cause for the relatively low numbers in the labor market. This finding supports the importance of modern and high-quality education, with an emphasis on accessibility to the fields considered most prestigious, as a medium for integrating properly into the labor market.”

For the full document, click here (password to open the document: newtaub2015)

For details, or to arrange an interview, please contact Gal Ben Dor, Director of Marketing and Communications 054-464-2333.

The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, non-partisan institution for socioeconomic research based in Jerusalem. The Center provides decision makers, as well as the public in general, with a big picture perspective on economic and social areas. The Center’s interdisciplinary Policy Programs – comprising leading academic and policy making experts – as well as the Center’s professional staff conduct research and provide policy recommendations in the key socioeconomic issues confronting the State.