Social justice protest 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israelis are very opposed to “social gaps.” This opposition is a natural and
worthy continuation of a very ancient Jewish ethos of the equality of all,
exemplified in many Biblical passages and stories emphasizing that even kings
cannot trample the rights of citizens.
Narrowing social gaps is a
declared policy goal in a number of areas and appears in the platforms of
numerous Knesset parties.
But when trying to quantify these social gaps
it is common to rely instead on economic gaps, which in turn are measured by
income gaps – which in Israel are quite large. But social and economic
gaps are not the same thing, and the exact relationship between the two is the
topic of a new book by conservative pundit Charles Murray that is roiling the
blogosphere in the United States.
In Murray’s new and controversial book,
, he documents that educated and uneducated white Americans have
become further and further apart socially. Consider 30-49 year olds, and examine
the gap between those with a college degree and those with no more than a
In 1960, the rates of marriage, children born out of
wedlock and labor-force participation were similar for these two
groups. By 2010, yawing gaps developed in all three. The marriage rate
for the educated declined moderately, from 94 percent to 83%; for the less
educated, it plummeted from 84% to 48%. For the educated, the number of children
born to unmarried parents rose from less than 1% to about 5%; for the less
educated, the rate rose from 6% to 44% – almost half of the children born in
this demographic to white parents.
For men in this age group, the number
not in the labor force remained extremely low for the educated – 3% in both
eras. But for the less educated, the number ballooned from 3% to
Let’s do a similar exercise for Israel. To match Murray’s focus on
white Americans, we will limit the analysis to Jewish Israelis.
• 78% of
the uneducated are married; for those with a college education, the rate is 79%
– not much different.
• The rate of children born out of wedlock in
Israel is so low that it is hard to make comparisons; a recent Central Bureau of
Statistics publication called it “extremely low.” It follows that any gap among
the communities must be tiny.
• The rate of workforce participation
tracks the US experience more closely. But even here there is a difference: 3%
of men this age with an academic degree were not in the workforce; for the
uneducated it was 10%. This gap is certainly very large, but notice two things:
The gap is somewhat smaller than in the US, and a meaningful fraction of those
not in the workforce are kollel students, whose status in the community is
distinctly not that of “dropouts.”
That certainly does not mean that
economic gaps do not translate into social gaps and class stratification in
Israel. But the effects are certainly less marked. In particular, the erosion of
traditional family structure that so worries Murray does not seem to be a
symptom of social divisions here.[email protected] Asher Meir is
research director at the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, an independent
institute in the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev).