By Michelle J. Budig, Vered Kraus, and Asaf Levanon
Across developed countries, women are more educated, more frequently employed, and receive higher wages than at any point in history. Yet, combining work and family responsibilities remains challenging for most women. Mothers are more likely to work part-time or not at all, relative to childless women and men. Moreover, a wage gap widens for mothers with each child they have, holding all else constant. Some countries reduce work-family conflict through supportive work-family policies such as generous parental leave, subsidized childcare, and family allowances. Despite this, in most developed countries, many women feel forced to choose between work and family priorities, which, in addition to reduced employment and wages, contribute to high and rising rates of childlessness, delayed fertility, and smaller than desired family sizes.
In our recent Gender & Society article, we examine employment and pay outcomes for mothers in a country where, at the aggregate level, women “have it all.” Israel presents a unique context for studying motherhood’s impacts on employment and earnings: it is characterized both by high fertility and marriage rates and by high rates of women’s education and employment. Compellingly, past research finds small motherhood penalties in Israel. Yet, Israel is also marked by strong disparities among ethnic and religious groups, and differences in motherhood penalties among groups have been unexplored. Ours is the first study that uses longitudinal data to examine motherhoods’ employment and wage penalties among different groups within Israel. Given substantial social and economic inequality between Israeli Jews and Israeli-Palestinians, we explore whether the overall finding of few motherhood penalties among all women in Israel remains true when we examine Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women separately. Importantly, we examine whether motherhood penalties are reduced in the public sector, with its stronger anti-discrimination policy and work-family policy enforcement. Further, we consider whether differences across the public and private sector employment shapes differences in motherhood penalties across ethnic and religious groups.
First, a bit of context: The Israeli population is diverse with sharp socioeconomic cleavages. It is comprised of Jews (75 percent), Muslims (20 percent), Christians (2 percent) and other minorities. Of these, Jews are the most socioeconomically privileged group and Muslims are the least privileged. High levels of ethno-religious segregation in where people live, where they work, and the occupations they hold contribute to significant inequalities in educational attainment, employment rates, earnings, and economic opportunity. Residential segregation shapes disparities in the-quality of schooling and educational attainment across communities. Access to social services, public transportation, and public and private sector work are all more constrained in ethnic and religious minority communities. In addition, family formation patterns differ among these groups, with later marriage and age at first birth among Jews, compared to Muslims and Christians, although Jewish and Muslim women have similarly high completed family sizes. Together, these conditions underpin dramatic differences in educational attainment and employment among ethnic and religious groups, with Jewish women being highly educated, highly engaged in the labor force and commanding the highest pay, followed by Christians and, quite distantly, Muslims on all measures.
Using newly available panel data we find that motherhood deters employment more strongly among Israeli-Palestinians than among Jews. Following a birth, Jewish women return to employment at higher rates and more quickly, with almost 70 percent being employed within 9 months of giving birth. This is robust among all Jewish women, regardless of educational attainment. Christian and Muslim women with post-secondary education are employed at similar rates to Jewish women following a birth. However, Christians, and especially Muslims with moderate and low educational attainment have longer periods of non-employment following a birth, and among the least educated, one-third of Muslim mothers remain non-employed at 2.5 years post-birth. These patterns reflect the impact of both structural and cultural factors: Muslims are more likely to live in remote communities with fewer job opportunities, poor public transportation, and little accessible childcare. These challenges are amplified by cultural norms encouraging direct care of mothers for children, which is more common for women with lower educational attainment.
Considering the motherhood wage penalty, we find penalties for each child among the least educated women in all groups. Among the least educated, the length of labor market absence following a birth and job experience are strong contributors to motherhood penalties, variously accounting for 24 to 53 percent of baseline penalties among groups. These penalties decline as education increases. At the medium level of education, we observe motherhood wage penalties for Jewish and Christian women, but not among Muslims. For all groups, highly-educated women incur smaller motherhood wage penalties, and in some cases receive motherhood wage premiums. Particularly among Muslims, children are associated with wage premiums among the highly educated. We explore this surprising finding by examining the characteristics of their labor force participation.
Muslim women who meet all three criteria – highly educated, employed, and mothers – are relatively rare, compared to Jewish women. To illustrate, employment rates of mothers at 18 months post-birth are, 47 percent for Muslims, compared to 84 percent of Jews. Of the employed, 36 percent of Muslims have a college degree, compared to 51 percent of Jews. This select group of employed, highly educated Muslim mothers are strongly segregated: fully 88 percent of highly educated Muslim mothers are in the public sector, compared with 49 percent of their Jewish counterparts. The majority of Muslim mothers in this category are teachers (63 percent) compared to Jewish mothers (26 percent). In Israel, teachers are covered by a strong collective bargaining agreement that offers higher pay to women with children. This enhancement of maternal earnings may contribute to the findings of wage bonuses for motherhood for highly educated Muslim mothers. In addition, the Israeli public sector is characterized by stronger enforcement of anti-discrimination and work-family policies. It is not surprising, then that public-sector employment, particularly for Muslims, is associated with higher post birth employment, lower motherhood penalties, and motherhood premiums among the highly educated. Our findings suggest that increasing educational attainment and public sector employment among Israeli-Palestinians may reduce inequality across religious and ethnic groups in terms of motherhood’s impact on employment and earnings.
Our findings are highly relevant to policy addressing gender and ethnic inequality. Because vulnerable workers – minorities and the least educated – incur the highest economic costs for childbearing, efforts to increase educational attainment are crucial in reducing mothers’ employment inequalities, particularly for Muslims and Christians. In addition, our study underscores the importance of public-sector employment in supporting Israeli-Palestinian mothers’ employment and pay, with its stronger employment protections and support for combining work and family.
Michelle J. Budig is a professor of sociology and senior vice provost at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research has focused on labor market inequalities, wage penalties for paid and unpaid caregiving, work–family policy, and nonstandard employment. Her research has appeared in American Sociological Review, Social Forces, Social Problems, Journal of Marriage and the Family, and numerous other professional journals.
Vered Kraus was an Emerita professor of sociology at the University of Haifa, Israel. Her work focused on social stratification and inequality, especially gender and ethnic inequality in the labor market. She published several books and articles, including Facing Barriers: Palestinian Women in a Jewish-Dominated Labor Market, Promises in the Promised Land: Mobility and Inequality in Israel, and Secondary Breadwinners: Israeli Women in the Labor Market.
Asaf Levanon is a senior lecturer in the department of sociology and the head of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Poverty and Social Exclusion at the University of Haifa. Building on social stratification research and life course scholarship, his work examines how institutions affect life-course outcomes. His work has appeared in American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Sociological Methods and Research, Social Science Research, and other professional journals.