REALITY CHECK* – Women at Work
Author: Taub Center Staff Bulletin Articles

* Reality Check: A consideration of the facts, setting aside opinions, preconceptions, and beliefs

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As of 2019, the employment rate of women in Israel is among the highest in the OECD countries. This relatively new phenomenon is rooted in the growth in employment in the past decade, which came largely from women ages 35-44 and 55-64. For the younger of these age groups, the rise is attributable to an increase in the share of young mothers entering the labor market.

The increased participation for the older age group, on the other hand, reflects both the general growth in participation of women in the labor market and a delay in retirement resulting from an increase in the official retirement age from 60 to 62 in 2004.

In general, higher employment rates are correlated with higher education levels. Rising education levels are already evident in high school; the share of both boys and girls graduating high school with a bagrut (matriculation) qualification, as well as those with a bagrut sufficient to enter university, saw a large rise between 1999 and 2013. Though both girls and boys have increased their rates of bagrut qualification, girls have higher rates of bagrut qualification and higher average bagrut scores than do boys.

Nevertheless, there are large gender differences specifically in the choice of high school major and in the level of mathematics study – both of which are factors with an influence on wage gaps between women and men. The share of those receiving a bagrut qualification with an emphasis on high technology studies is higher among boys, and there is a male majority in majors like computer sciences and physics. Girls make up the majority choosing the arts – literature, theater, art, and the like.

Gender differences are also substantial in higher education. For at least the past 20 years, women have been enrolling in higher education in greater numbers than men.
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Over time, the share of women continuing on to advanced degrees has grown. In 2017, the share of women among first, second, and third degree earners, respectively, was 58%, 63%, and 53%. Here, too, differences in field of study are evident and largely unchanged for the past 25 years: women tend towards the caring and education professions (e.g., nursing, social work, and teaching) while men tend toward mathematics-based studies at higher rates.

That said, there has been substantial growth in the share of women studying social sciences and business administration, and women now represent more than 50% of the students in law and medical schools. In the exact sciences (math, statistics, and computer sciences) the absolute number of students in BA studies tripled between 2000 and 2014 with the share of men rising sharply, so the share of women in these studies has actually dropped.

Until the beginning of the century the share of women in engineering fields rose, especially in the areas of biological, chemical, and food engineering, as well as in industrial engineering and engineering management, but since then, women’s share in engineering has been steadily declining.

Gender differences carry over to occupational choice as well; the caring professions including education are characterized by a female majority while the technology professions are largely male dominated. When occupations are divided by education level, it is found that occupations are particularly polarized for those without an academic occupation.

For individuals with an academic degree, the differences between the genders are less pronounced. It is interesting to note that there is an inverse relationship between gender gaps in occupations and those in wages; for those without an academic degree, gender wage gaps are low, while for those with higher education, there are substantial gaps, with men concentrated in the occupations at the highest end of the wage distribution.

Occupational choice is not the only factor responsible for wage gaps in the labor market. Additional factors contributing to wage gaps include characteristics of employment, like number of work hours, employment terms, maternity leaves and career breaks for childcare, as well as differences in wage growth in the labor market. In general, more women than men tend to work in less than full-time positions. In 2017, 31.8% of women worked part-time versus 12.9% of men, and the number of weekly hours worked by women was on average 16% less than men.

The main reason is likely that the brunt of childcare continues to fall to women. Even among women who are employed in full-time positions, the average number of weekly hours is still lower than for men (women tend to work less overtime). With regard to continuous employment, women’s employment patterns are characterized by maternity leaves and career breaks for childcare. Their absence from the labor market leads to less work experience, a lowering of their skill levels relative to their male counterparts, who are less likely to take career breaks, and a lessening of their attractiveness to employers.

In 2014, 41% of Israeli women who gave birth chose to take more than the 14 paid weeks of maternity leave then set in the law**.The high fertility rate in Israel – an average of 3.1 children per women – is also a factor that contributes to the number of career breaks that women experience.

There are also differences between men and women in salary increases; while beginning salaries are similar for 25-29-year-olds, wages grow at a substantially faster rate for men, with the wage gap between men and women greatest by age 45.
Of all these factors, the largest sources for the wage gaps between men and women are the number of hours worked and differences in occupational choices made at young ages.

Gender wage gaps in Israel also have a large impact on pension savings. Since, on average, women work less than men over the years, take more breaks, and are in relatively lower paying jobs than men, their pension accrual is less than men’s. Moreover, Israel is one of the nine OECD countries with a gender-based official retirement age and one of only three countries that intend to retain this gap for decades to come.

This means that not only do women accrue less pension savings for all the reasons given previously, but they also do so over fewer years than men. What is more, the lower pension accrual has to suffice for more years of retirement – both due to retirement at a younger age as well as due to their longer life expectancy relative to men.

** In 2014, maternity leave consisted of 14 paid weeks of leave and an additional 12 unpaid weeks of leave for any woman who had been working for a company for at least 12 months prior to giving birth. As of 2017, the paid portion of maternity leave is 15 weeks, in addition to 11 subsequent unpaid weeks for any woman working for a company for at least 12 months.