Ultra-Orthodox Women Work Less, Earn Less – and Not by Choice, Study Shows

One of the main reasons for the wage gap is the difference in weekly work hours between the two communities, as well as which careers are most common

FILE PHOTO: Women working at a tech company in Elad, June 14, 2016
Ofer Vaknin

Some 76% of ultra-Orthodox women are employed, nearly the same rate as secular women – 83% – but secular women earn significantly more. Ultra-Orthodox women earn 39% less per month, and 13% less per hour, on average.

One of the main reasons for the wage gap is the difference in weekly work hours between the two communities, as well as which careers are most common.

New research conducted by the deputy chair of the Haredi Institute for Policy Studies, Nitza Kliner-Kasir, which was recently published in the Tel Aviv University law faculty’s journal “Law Society and Culture,” found that ultra-Othodox women work on average 30 hours a week, while secular women work 37 hours. The gap is partly explained by the fact that many ultra-Orthodox women are stuck in part-time work.

The research found that 37% of ultra-Orthodox women work part-time, an average of 21 hours a week, versus 21% of non-Haredi Jewish women. Non-Haredi women who work part time work an average of 22 hours a week.

Furthermore, some 22% of ultra-Orthodox women work at part time jobs not by choice, versus only 15% of non-Haredi Jewish women.

Even ultra-Orthodox women who work full time often work less than their non-Haredi counterparts – some 63% of ultra-Orthodox women work full time but average only 36 hours a week, versus the 79% of non-Haredi women who work full time and average 42 hours a week.

The concept of “full time” work with reduced hours is particularly relevant to the most popular profession for women within the Haredi community – teaching.

“Historical and sociological conditions created a high concentration of Haredi women in teaching,” says Kliner-Kasir. “Their family conditions and cultural limitations created a strong draw to this field, which has even turned into part of the Haredi girls’ training as the family educator.”

One in three ultra-Orthodox women – 32% ­– work in teaching, versus 11% of non-Haredi Jewish women. Full-time teaching encompasses fewer hours than other professions.

The research found that the high concentration of teachers in Haredi society explains some 17% of the gap in work hours between Haredi and non-Haredi women.

Another interesting finding of the report was the relatively high concentration of ultra-Orthodox women who work exactly 24 hours. Some 17% of Haredi women work 24 hours a week, versus 7% of non-Haredi Jewish women. The researchers explain that this is the minimum number of hours a woman needs to work in order for her children to be eligible for state-subsidized daycare.

Kliner-Kasir says this is a positive phenomenon, while noting that it emphasizes the importance of daycare in enabling ultra-Orthodox women to work.

Ultra-Orthodox families tend to have a large number of children, which impacts women’s work hours, but the researchers say that the number of children and age of children has less of an impact on ultra-Orthodox women’s work-related decisions than on non-Haredi Jewish women’s decision-making.

The workers didn’t find significant differences in the number of hours worked by women with 1-3 children and full-time jobs; non-Harediwomen worked 2.5 hours less than they did before they had children, while ultra-Orthodox women worked 2 hours less.

For families with 4-5 children, Haredi women worked another half-hour less, while non-Haredi women worked another 2 hours less.

For women with part-time jobs, Haredi women cut back by 9 hours, while non-Haredi women cut back 12.5 hours.

The researchers also found that the age of the youngest child in the family had zero impact on the work hours of Haredi women with full-time jobs.

“It’s notable that ultra-Orthodox women make exceptional effort at work because they are their family’s primary – and sometimes only – breadwinners, and due to the financial necessity,” says Kliner-Kasir. Many of the men in the ultra-Orthodox community engage in religious studies at yeshivas full-time. “In addition, the study hours for avrechim [married yeshiva students] overlap with the children’s school or preschool, which enables the men to take care of the children and support the wife who works.”

The research also found that slightly higher wages are less of a motivator for ultra-Orthodox women to increase their work hours, even though the ultra-Orthodox women are more in need of the money. This is because ultra-Orthodox women are already pushing themselves to work their maximum, explains Kliner-Kasir. However, a significant salary increase can prompt women to work more if it enables them to fund additional child care, she notes.

Kliner-Kasir notes that her research indicates Israel’s government should invest in enabling career training in broader fields for ultra-Orthodox women, particularly in fields with high demands and higher salaries.

Lengthening the hours of state-subsidized daycare facilities would also enable Haredi women to work longer hours, she notes.