Why do Israeli parents struggle to find work-life balance?
Author: Taub Center Staff Policy Briefs

This past week witnessed the rollout of additional measures mandated by the Israeli government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, including the closure of all schools and kindergartens and a shift to working from home for all non-vital industries. These measures make it an even bigger challenge than usual to be a working parent in Israel, where fertility and labor market trends make it difficult to juggle family and career even during normal times.

First of all, fertility in Israel is exceptionally high. Israel’s birth rate stands at 3.1 children per woman, on average, which is far higher than the rate in any other developed country. Though fertility is especially high in the Haredi community (7 children per woman), the rise in Israel’s fertility over the past two decades has actually been largely driven by the secular and traditional Jewish populations, whose combined fertility rate is greater than 2.2.

This means that secular and traditional women alone have more children, on average, than the general population in any other developed country.

Furthermore, fertility rates in Israel remain similar to their level during the 1980s despite significant improvement in the education levels of Israeli women and their large-scale entry into the labor market, and despite a rise of close to three years in women’s average age at first birth since the turn of the century.

In addition to having more children to care for than their peers in other developed countries, which also means more children running around the house in the coming weeks while school is cancelled, Israeli parents also have very high employment rates. Employment rates among Israeli women have risen significantly in recent decades, and in particular among mothers of young children.

In 2018, mothers of children ages birth to 4-years-old had similar employment rates to those among mothers of older children or women without children. Furthermore, Taub Center researchers found that among non-Haredi Jewish women employment rates are similar for women without children and mothers with 1 to 3 children. In other words, non-Haredi Jewish women with up to 3 children remain in the labor market after the births of their children.

It’s not just the mothers who are working a lot, but the fathers as well. The majority of households with children under the age of 18 (71%) are coupled households. As employment among women increases, the gender division between work and home is changing in Israel, and households are becoming more egalitarian from an employment perspective.

Thus, the share of households with children in which both parents are employed full-time rose from 30% in the population at-large in 2002 to 40% in 2017.

Still, there are large differences between population groups with respect to household employment structure. About 51% of non-Haredi Jewish households have two parents working full-time, as compared to 25% of Arab Israeli households and only 13% of Haredi households.

In contrast, in 43% of Haredi households neither partner works full-time, compared with 15% of Arab Israeli households, and just 11% of non-Haredi Jewish households. It is important to note that the two population groups in Israel characterized by the lowest employment rates are Haredi men (52%) and Arab Israeli women (37%).

In general, the average number of combined weekly work hours of two parents with children is 59, yet here too there are major differences among population groups. Non-Haredi Jewish couples work an average of 67 collective hours, while Arab Israeli couples work an average of 50 hours and Haredi Jewish couples work an average of 34 hours.
work hours for parents with children 2017
Non-Haredi Jewish couples also spend more time on the road commuting to work. Only 22% of non-Haredi Jewish couples both work within their residential area, as compared to about 50% of Haredi households and 36% of Arab Israeli households. Among women, non-Haredi Jewish women report a longer commuting time than Arab Israeli and Haredi women.

Given the combination of many children, long works hours, and lengthy commutes, it is perhaps not surprising that Israel ranks fourth from last in the OECD with respect to work-life balance. Work-life balance satisfaction was found to be higher among Israelis without children under the age of 18 than among those with children and, by sector, satisfaction was found to be the lowest among non-Haredi Jews.

Israel’s unique characteristics make it difficult for many parents today to attain an adequate work-life balance even under normal conditions, let alone in the extremely unusual conditions we find ourselves in today. We at the Taub Center wish all Israelis good health and all working parents good luck in the coming weeks!