What's Happening With the Ethnic Gap

When it comes to social and economic gaps, there is a tendency to look at the dark side of the picture. This is particularly true with regard to gaps between ethnic groups. The "fact" that these gaps are widening is established all too easily. For example, here's a sentence from an article in the Hebrew Globes. "The problem is that various studies show that despite the heavy spending on education, the gaps grew both in education and in economics..." Have the gaps indeed grown?

When it comes to social and economic gaps, there is a tendency to look at the dark side of the picture. This is particularly true with regard to gaps between ethnic groups. The "fact" that these gaps are widening is established all too easily. For example, here's a sentence from an article in the Hebrew Globes. "The problem is that various studies show that despite the heavy spending on education, the gaps grew both in education and in economics..." Have the gaps indeed grown?

A review published in The Economic Quarterly by Dr. Shlomo Sitton, a lecturer in economics at the Hebrew University, of a review paper by Iris Jerby and Gal Levy, "Israel: The Socio-economic Gap," examines their argument that "inequality between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim has not been erased and is even becoming sharper in many areas." Sitton comes to the conclusion that the gap is actually narrowing and gives examples from four areas, based on the authors' research data and the government's Statistical Yearbook:

l Education levels: Between 1986-87 and 1994-95 (the period covered by the study), the percentage of Askenazi Jews (of European and American origin, first and second generations) who earned high school matriculation certificates rose from 42 to 50 percent. Among Mizrahi Jews (of Asian and African origin, first and second generation), this rate increased from 23 to 34 percent. The gap exists, but narrowed from 19 percent to 16 percent. A similar trend is evident in higher education, where from 1975-76 to 1994-95 the percentage of Israelis earning Bachelor's degrees rose from 17 to 27 percent among Ashkenazim and from 14 to 23 percent among Mizrahim.

l Living conditions: While the proportion of people living in conditions of less than one person per room rose slightly between 1992 and 1998 among Ashkenazim born abroad - from 53 to 56 percent - the increase among Mizrahim born abroad rose from 31 to 51 percent to nearly close the gap).

l Employment, by type of profession: the ethnic gap in the higher professions is still large - 38 percent of first-generations Ashkenazim held these positions in 1998, compared to 23 percent of their Mizrahi counterparts; for the second generation, the percentages are 52 and 25 percent, respectively. But since 1991 the gaps have closed slightly, from 18 to 15 percent among the first generation and from 29 to 27 percent in the second.

l Income: Here, Sitton relies on an article by Dr. Jimmy Weinblatt, Dean of the Department of Humanities at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, "The Employment Market in a Pluralistic Society," in a book published by the Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. Weinblatt reaches the conclusion that the wage gap between urban salaried employees born in Europe and America and those born in Asia and Africa (first-generation in both cases) nearly closed between 1985 and 1997. (A contributory factor may have been the still-low income levels among immigrants from the CIS). Among the second generation, the gap widened somewhat "but one cannot speak of a true deepening" of the gap.

Some of the figures need updating, but the picture is nevertheless becoming brighter.