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Marriages in Israel of mixed Ashkenazi and Mizrahi descent have been continuously increasing in recent decades. However, a study finds that contrary to popular perception, mixed marriages do not necessarily result in narrowing the social gap as far as education and income are concerned.

Researchers from Hebrew University have found that in the '60s and '70s mixed marriages contributed to widening the education gap between the two groups.

Professor Barabara Okun and Ph.D. student Orna Hayat-Marali of the university's sociology department examined the economic status and education level of the mixed Jews in Israel and the effect this group's growth has on the social gaps between the two ethnic groups.

Intermarriage, mainly between Ashkenazis and Mizrahis, was traditionally seen in Israel as the epitome of achieving the vision of merging of exiles and as a way of erasing interaction gaps. The study, based mainly on population census figures, defines "mixed" as a person whose parents or grandparents include at least one Ashkenazi and one Mizrahi.

The study shows that the rate of mixed Jewish children born in Israel has been rising annually by half a percent until it reached some 25 percent in 1995 - the last year a population census was carried out. That year only 5.3 percent of the Jews aged 40-43 were mixed, compared to 16.5 percent among the 20-21 age group and 25.1 percent among the 10-11 age groups.

"There is a growing number of mixed Jews in Israel, yet most popular academic publications refer mainly to Ashkenazi and Mizrahi groups," says Okun.

The study finds that the economic situation of mixed persons in their early 30s who are raising families is midway between the Ashkenazis and Mizrahis.

The surprising finding is that mixed marriages in the '60s and '70s led to a statistical widening of the ethnic gap.

In the '60s and '70s mixed marriages were often an "exchange" of economic position for ethnic status. A well-off educated Mizrahi would marry a poorly educated Ashkenazi. A large group of educated Mizrahis, who married Ashkenazis, was statistically deducted from the Mizrahi group and added to the mixed group.

Since parents have a strong influence on their children's education, children of the Mizrahi couples were less educated than those of the mixed couples. Had all the educated Mizrahis married within their community, its education level today would have been higher.

Since the '90s this trend has altered. Both spouses in inter-ethnic marriages are relatively highly educated and the effect of the marriage on the education gaps in the next generation is not clear-cut.

In the Ashkenazi community the reverse process occurred. The less educated, who married Mizrahis, statistically joined the mixed group in the next generation. Consequently the education average of the Ashkenazi group is relatively higher than it would have been had there not been mixed marriages.