A study conducted by economists at the Kohelet Policy Forum examined the birthrates in different Israeli sectors and its effect on poverty and offered a new approach to welfare in the country.
The extraordinarily high birth rate among Arab and Haredi populations has been a contributing factor in the poverty of these sectors, the study found.
The Arab and Haredi communities in Israel have high rates of poverty and a relatively high birth rate. The study, conducted by Dr. Michael Sarel and Gilad Gaibel, simulated a scenario in which the birth rate in the Arab and Haredi sectors was similar to the rest of the population. The general poverty rates were reduced by more than 5% in these communities, and child poverty plummeted by 25%.
The Arab and Haredi communities are more traditional compared to the general population. In the Haredi communities, a larger percent of men refrain from working and instead attend yeshiva for religious studies. In Arab communities, women often stay at home and stay away from the job market.
The low job market participation rate has slowly been changing in recent years and has contributed to much of Israel’s growth.
Interestingly, the study shows different findings in each of the examined populations. Whereas the birth preferences of the Haredi population constitute a significant factor in affecting the poverty in the entire population and the Haredi sector, birth preferences in the Arab society have a more moderate effect on poverty and inequality.
The simulations presented in the study examined only short-term effects. According to the study, the effects on long-term poverty rates and inter-generational effects are likely even stronger, and therefore a decline in births is expected to increase the ability of the family to invest in the human capital of each child.
The birth rate in Israel is 3.11, significantly higher than much of the western world. This rate has positive effects as well, mainly the sustainable growth and economic stability of the population over time. The inequality within Israel would be reduced if the birth rates in different sectors were closer to the national average.
Dr. Sarel told TPS that “raising the question of how birth preferences in the Haredi sector and in Arab society affect the conventional welfare measures within these subpopulations in particular, and in the Israeli population in general, does not constitute a value judgment regarding the appropriate number of children per family. On the contrary, we believe that families generally know their preferences better than anyone else, and know what is best for them, including how many children they should bring into the world.”
However, “because the poverty indices in Israel are higher than in other developed countries, and because the government has a stated goal of reducing poverty rates, it is important to identify the factors that lead to the high poverty indices, including the birth preferences of sectors in Israeli society, and to appraise their relative weight,” he explained
As an example, he pointed out that “if the main reason for the high poverty indices are birth preferences, their significance for the welfare of the population and for the desirable social and economic policies of the government is entirely different than if the main reasons are poor functioning of the education system, failures in the labor market, or an inadequate welfare system.”