One in four men eligible for conscription into the Israel Defense Forces does not serve, according to recently released statistics. These findings have generated a wave of anxiety about the future of the compulsory draft.

But let's look into who is not enlisting in the army and what the implications are. Such an examination would undoubtedly reveal that it is not the more established population's attitude toward army service that is the root of the problem known as "the motivation crisis." Rather, it is the less socioeconomically comfortable population that remains outside the army.

The 2005 social survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) provides a rare glimpse behind the numbers, because for the first time, respondents were asked whether they had served in the army.

According to IDF statistics, about 26 percent of the men are not drafted. Of these, 11 percent are ultra-Orthodox, 4 percent are abroad, 4 percent are unsuitable due to an inadequate level of education or a criminal record, 2.5 percent have health problems, and 5 percent are excused because of psychological problems. The CBS survey supports the army's numbers, with a quarter of the men not enlisting, about half of whom are ultra-Orthodox.

A comparison of the non-ultra-Orthodox aged 20 to 24 and not serving with those who serve (that is, those who are still in the army or have recently been released), reveals significant differences between the two groups. (We must not overstate the implications here given the small size of the group within the general sample of the survey).

First, the non-conscripts are less healthy: Approximately 10 percent report health problems, compared with only 3 percent among those in uniform or recently discharged. Second, although the survey does not clearly indicate psychological suitability for military service, a sense of isolation reported by respondents is the closest indication of such suitability: While 29 percent of those who did not serve said they felt lonely frequently or occasionally, roughly 15 percent of those who served reported this feeling.

The picture is also clear on education and income. Fifty percent of those who did not serve have a matriculation certificate or more, compared with 70 percent of those who served. About 20 percent of those who were not drafted did not have any high school education, compared with 5 percent among ex-soldiers.

The average monthly income for those who did not serve is NIS 3,000, compared with NIS 4,400 for those who served. While those who do not serve get a head start in the labor market, the earlier entrance does not offset the advantages in education, family capital and perhaps the preference in hiring that the ex-soldiers have.

It is therefore not surprising that about 19 percent of those who do not serve report a general dissatisfaction with their lives, compared with only 8 percent of those who served. And finally, about 40 percent of those who did not serve have been in Israel only since the 1990s. New immigrants make up 20 percent of the 20 to 24 age group, not including the ultra-Orthodox, thus diminishing the seriousness of the problem for veteran Israelis.)

The conclusion is that on economic, education and health measures, the group that does not serve in the army is weaker than its serving peer. The secular, native Israelis - the bastion of the comfortable middle class and the group showing signs of lessening military motivation - constitute about 2 percent of the entire population. Since the number of draftees in this group is also affected by limitations that have nothing to do with motivation, this becomes a negligible number, mainly in the upper middle class. This is particularly true given that the rate of those joining the army in this group is much greater than their numbers in the population.

In examining the motivation crisis, a better indicator is the decision to serve in the standing army and in command positions, and not necessarily in who serves and who does not.

Nonetheless, if there is no change in this division or, alternatively, the discrimination it reflects is codified in a selective service policy, the motivation problem will grow worse. The army will become a paid force, with all the problematic political implications inherent in such a situation.

Yagil Levy teaches in the Public Policy Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and is the author of the book "Israel's Materialist Militarism"