The role of the state and the pliability of tradition: Israeli Palestinian and Middle-Eastern Jewish women in the labor force

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article deals with the question of why the labor force participation of Arab women in MENA region is the lowest among women from all other areas in the world by comparing three Arab Middle-Eastern groups in Israel—Mizrahi Jews who originated in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Muslim Palestinians, and Christian Palestinians. The article starts with a description of the differential treatment of the three Arab groups by the state, and then explores the impact of this differential treatment by analyzing official statistical data. The analysis shows that the pace of change in employment rates has been much slower among the two Palestinian groups than among Jewish women. The findings highlight the role of the state in determining the destiny of various groups. The state pressured Jewish women to enroll in modern institutions, providing them with better education and more work opportunities than offered the Palestinians. Comparing groups that shared a similar patriarchic culture at the outset but that evolved along separate routes thus demonstrates the importance of state policies in determining women's social standing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-39
Number of pages11
JournalResearch in Social Stratification and Mobility
StatePublished - Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is based on a research funded by the Israeli Science Foundation, grant 637/06. Earlier versions of this paper were presented in the Van Leer Institute of Jerusalem, the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues at University of California, Berkeley, The Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (San Francisco, 2017), and in the Department of Sociology at the University of Haifa. We thank the participants of those events for many useful and important comments. We cannot mention all those who have read this article and contributed to its final version but must acknowledge the help of Roi Livne, Judah Matras, Martin Sanchez-Jankowski, and Wout Ultee.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Female labor force participation
  • Israel
  • Mizrahi women
  • Palestinian women
  • State gender policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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