Gender Wage Gap in Israel Among Highest in the West

Latest OECD survey shows women with full-time jobs earn just 78% of their male peers. The differential hasn't changed in five years

File photo: Women in a course for nursery school teachers.
File photo: Women in a course for nursery school teachers. Tomer Appelbaum

A report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, titled “The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle,” shows that Israeli women have a particularly steep hill to climb.

The survey, released last week, showed that women in this country working full-time jobs earned on average just 78% of what their male peers earned in 2015, making it the fourth-widest gap among 15 countries surveyed. The average for countries belonging to the OECD – the club including most of the world’s wealthiest economies – was 86%.

For the countries that had made the most progress toward gender equality on pay, the gap was nearly nonexistent. In Belgium, women earned 97% on average of what men earned, in Slovenia 95% and in New Zealand 94%. On the other hand, Israeli women were earning close to their American sisters’ 81% and were ahead of Japan’s 74%.

But Israel’s gap was wider than countries like Mexico and Turkey, which usually score at the bottom of OECD social and economic indicators for women, like labor force participation rates and rates of education. Turkish women earn only 7% less than Turkish men and in Mexico the gap was just 17%.

“The OECD report looks back only five years but the fact is that wage gaps in Israel haven’t changed over the last decade,” said Yaara Mann, director of the Feminist Employment Market at the Israel Women’s Network.

Moreover, the gap hasn’t narrowed over the years 2010-15, according to the OECD.

“Women are fated to earn only 78% of what men earn – the time has come for the government to invest resources in policies that advance gender equality like maternity leaves for men and enforcing the same limits on the number of work hours for men and women.”

The stagnation in progress toward wage equality isn’t unique to Israel, though. Only a small number of countries succeeded in reducing it, among them Ireland and Mexico. For most it remained unchanged and in a few, such as Switzerland, Japan and Brazil, the gap even widened.

“When women do work, they are more likely to do it on a part-time basis, are less likely to advance to management positions, are more likely to face discrimination, and earn less than men,” the OECD said in a statement accompanying its report.

Less entrepreneurial

“Women are less likely to be entrepreneurs, and female-owned businesses tend to earn less than male-owned ones. Gender gaps tend to increase with age, reflecting the crucial role that parenthood plays in gender equality. Much more than fatherhood, motherhood typically has sizable negative effects on workforce participation, pay and career advancement,” it said.

While Israeli women earn relatively little compared to Israeli men, their rates of education are now higher. In 2014, 19.5% more women complete high school than men, much wider that the 11.9% gender gap on average for OECD countries. Women account for 59.5% of all Israelis awarded bachelor’s degrees, compared with 58.2% on average for the OECD. At the Ph.D. level, women make up 49.8% of the degrees granted in Israel, compared with 47.4% across the OECD.

At the same time, women in Israel join the labor force in greater numbers than women in most other OECD countries – the gap between the sexes is just 7.8 percentage points, versus 12 points on average, In countries like Japan and Italy the gap in as much as 20 points, although in Scandinavia the rates are nearly equal.

But Israeli women are even less likely to be employers than their sisters in most other OECD countries: Only 1.5% of Israeli women employ others versus 6.1% of men – a much wider differential than the 2.3% female employers and 5.6% male employers in OECD countries on average.

In the political sphere, Israeli women are also faring poorly. They account for just 26.7% of all members of the Knesset, under the average of OECD legislators of 28.7%. Iceland, which has the most gender-balanced parliament, is close to 50-50 while in Finland and Mexico, 45% of the legislators are female.

Women account for only 18.1% of all directors sitting on Israeli corporate boards, under the 20% average for OECD countries, Israeli women account for 62.6% of all employees in the public sector but only 42.8% of the sector’s management-level jobs.

Apart from discrimination, other factors weigh on women’s wages. Just 2% of Israeli women work more than 60 hours a week, a quarter the rate of Israeli men. Women tend toward certain professions, the so-called “pink ghetto” – where pay is traditionally lower. For instance, in 2015, 9.1% of young women said they planned to be teachers, nearly three times the rate for young men. Another 27.7% said they were interested in nursing and related fields, nearly double the rate for young men.

And while there were no separate figures for Israel or other countries, women across the OECD are much less likely than men to be studying science or engineering even though jobs in high-tech pay far better than average – in Israel about double the national average salary.

A study obtained by TheMarker in August showed that although women account for 58% of all students pursing a bachelor’s degree at Israel’s universities and colleges, the rate among students of computer science was just half that. The figures were compiled for the Council for Higher Education at TheMarker’s request.

The OECD urges member states to step up implementation of policies to lower the gap, including involving greater transparency on pay, with companies increasingly required to analyze and disclose their gender wage gaps, and measures to improve access to quality early childhood education and care, as well as encouraging fathers to take parental leave.

Israel has moved in that direction over the last two years due in large part to efforts by MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), which began when the party’s leader, Yair Lapid, was finance minister. Ministries were instructed (although not all of them comply) to break down their spending on a gender basis to get a better understanding of where gaps exist.

Israel has also made progress on fathers’ taking of parental leave. Last year the Knesset passed a law entitling fathers to five days of work leave after their partners give birth, but in practice few take advantage of the right.