High Israeli Birthrate Not Backed by Social Policies

Study: Government policy of encouraging births needs to be supported by anti-poverty incentives, including the acquisition of higher education.

Eyal Toueg

The Israeli government’s policy of encouraging the population to have children is not sufficiently backed by a policy that would also provide incentives to acquire a higher education as a means of encouraging people to enter the workforce, a study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies says. As a result, Israel also has relatively high poverty rates.

The absence of such a policy link is reflected in high rates of poverty, particularly among ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Arab households, where the poverty rate is somewhat higher, at 20%, than among the 17% rate in non-Haredi and non-Arab households. Israel has the highest birthrate in the developed world, the study notes, at an average of three children per adult female. This compares to an average of 1.7 births per woman among other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries.

The relatively high Israeli birthrate is a product of a number of cultural factors, including adherence by some segments of the population to tradition, the importance accorded to family and government policy encouraging births. But the study suggests that the government is failing to sufficiently encourage the acquisition of a higher education and workforce participation, and isn’t doing enough to make relevant professional training accessible to people who need it.

The government may enact policies that are supportive to parents, but it doesn’t help them escape the cycle of poverty, the study, entitled “Family Structure and Well-Being Across Israel’s Diverse Population,” claims. Written by the Taub Center’s director of policy, Liora Bowers, it is featured in a special edition of the United Nations’ publication “Family Futures.”

Israel is nearly the only government in the world that provides unlimited coverage at almost no charge to patients for in-vitro fertilization for women up to the age of 45 and up to the birth of two children. The government also provides all households with children with a government child allowance, although the allowances were drastically trimmed about a year ago. The monthly allowances are paid to every family with children up to the age of 16, regardless of their financial means. In most other OECD countries, child allowances are linked to income, the study notes.

With regard to employment, the government has in fact been supportive of mothers entering the workforce, the study notes, and the rate of employment among mothers between the ages of 25 and 44 is high – almost as high as the 77% rate for women without children. Policies also include legal protection in the employment setting for pregnant women and guaranteed maternity leave, day-care from age three and subsidized day-care for children younger than that.

On the other hand, 20% of households are in poverty and one in three Israeli children are below the poverty line, the study states, placing Israel, along with the United States, as having the highest poverty rate among the 22 OECD countries recently gauged.

The study focused primarily on the situation of the ultra-Orthodox and the Arab communities, although Bowers notes that they are not the only groups in which poverty is a problem. Among Haredi men, many of whom are engaged in full-time religious study, fewer than half are employed and among Arab women the figure is under 30%. For her part, Bowers expressed particular concern over the decline in the level of non-religious education among Haredim, along with a decline in employment rates among young Haredi men.