Ethiopian women marry later and divorce more, CBS data show

Marriage data on Ethiopian community represents a “major demographic shift,” expert tells 'Post.'

November 1, 2013 01:35
2 minute read.
Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel

Ethiopian Jews 370. (photo credit: Moshe Shai)


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Ethiopian women in Israel tend to marry later and get divorced more frequently than the average Jewish Israeli, according to data the Central Bureau of Statistics released this week.

The median marriage age for Ethiopian Jewish women is 26.6, 0.8 years higher than for Jewish women as a whole. And 15 marriages out of every 1,000 end in divorce for Ethiopians, compared with 9 in 1,000 for all Jewish marriages.

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The vast array of data, released as the Ethiopian community marks the holiday of Sigd, provides a snapshot of family life, education and economic status for the 131,400 Ethiopians living in the country. The bureau’s report reflects data collected over the past two years.

While the report provides a wide swath of disparate pieces of data — for example, 85 percent of Ethiopian athletes play soccer, as opposed to any other sport — the information about the roles of women and educational achievement were particularly surprising, two experts on immigrant demographics told The Jerusalem Post.

In particular, Ethiopian women marrying later represents a “major demographic shift,” according to Steven Kaplan, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert on Ethiopian communities.

The average age of marriage for Ethiopian Israeli women, 26.6 years, is especially significant because of marriage trends in Ethiopia.

“That’s a decade or more different from what the pattern was historically in Ethiopia,” he told the Post. “In traditional Ethiopian society, there were no young single women.”

This shifting trend is closely related to changes in educational attainment for Ethiopian women, said Shalva Weil, a senior researcher at the Hebrew University’s Research Institute for Innovation in Education who specializes in Ethiopian immigration.

Indeed, women represent 66.8% of Ethiopian undergraduates, while women represent 56.5% of all undergraduates in the country.

Kaplan said a second reason for a later marriage age is that “the parents have much less say over when the young people get married.”

Taken together, these trends have large demographic implications, because women who marry older have smaller families, Kaplan said.

Separately, the bureau’s data reveal that school dropout rates among Ethiopians are slightly lower than for all Jewish students — 1.6% per year compared to 1.9% — which Kaplan said is a “major achievement” in closing educational disparities.

Still, Ethiopian students pass secondary school matriculation exams at a rate almost 20 percentage points below the average.

At home, Ethiopian households spend 33% less the average household and spend a larger proportion of their money on food, housing and furniture than the general population.

Geographically, the bureau reported that the most Ethiopians — 10,700 people — live in Netanya, while the city with the largest percentage of Ethiopians is Kiryat Malachi, which had an Ethiopian man run for mayor for the first time this year.

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