Israeli Women Want It All, Now

Israeli women tend to do a better job balancing work and family, a study shows. Their experience in the army and the proximity of grandparents sure help.

Kids or career? For women around the Western world, it’s often a choice of one or the other.

Not in Israel. New research shows that not only do Israeli women insist on having it all, they want it right away.

The study, published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies by Bosmat Shalom-Tuchin, found that unlike their counterparts in Europe and the United States, Israeli women tend to launch careers and families simultaneously if they’re determined to have both.

“Family is still such an important part of Israeli culture that giving up having children is not even an option here,” said Shalom-Tuchin, who undertook the study as part of her MBA degree at Ben-Gurion University. “This is something very unique to Israeli culture.”

The findings are based on interviews with nine high-profile career women in Israel, including several Knesset members, their spouses and grown children. This three-pronged approach was unique, said Shalom-Tuchin, because it also examined the effects on the families of successful career women.

In the article, a woman referred to as Irit described her life strategy. “My recipe is to start everything early, even to get up early in the morning. When I got married, I hadn’t turned 19 yet,” she said.

“It is not that I planned it, but when I look back, my rule is not to postpone anything, even if it creates a break in the middle. I started university a year before my school friends. The family grows up simultaneously with the work.”

A factor that might explain why Israeli women aren’t afraid to push ahead with both careers and families is the proximity of grandparents. “Having grandparents nearby provides for lots of essential help,” Shalom-Tuchin said.

As a woman in the article referred to as Tamar noted: “I always say that behind every man stands a woman, and behind every successful woman stands her mother. She helped me to deal with difficulties. If I had a sick child, she would take a day off work so I could stay at mine.”

Another factor is the preparation Israeli women get in the military. “Many of the women interviewed cited their army experience and courses they took in the army as something that gave them a head start in their careers,” Shalom-Tuchin said.

Among children of high-powered women, Shalom-Tuchin found that boys were inclined to be more accepting of their mothers’ demanding careers than girls.

“This was a subject I found had never been explored before in academic research,” she said. “It turns out that boys are less resentful of their mothers’ being away, while girls tend to feel they’re missing important time with their mothers – not necessarily quality time but just curling up on the couch together watching TV.”

Shalom-Tuchin added that she was surprised by the importance children attached to their own support and cooperation in advancing their mothers’ careers. “Many of the children I talked to said their mothers were able to succeed because they helped out a lot at home and never caused problems that would take her away from work,” she said.

As other international studies have shown, Shalom-Tuchin found that Israeli women who balanced careers and family successfully tended to share characteristics such as motivation and initiative. They also received support from their spouses.

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