NEET Young Adults in Arab Society

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A new IDI study on NEET (Not in Employment, Education, or Training) finds close connection between academic education and NEET in young adulthood

Interim Findings


 Findings of a study on NEET young adults conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute indicate that children of parents with an academic education (particularly children of mothers with an academic education) are far less likely to be NEET when reaching young adulthood (not in employment, education, or training). In addition, parents of NEET young adults are characterized by lower employment rates and lower income. Other contributing factors to the NEET situation include residence in a location with low socioeconomic status, low level of education, and gender. The upshot is that the socioeconomic background of Arab young adults, and particularly young Arab women, clearly affects their chances of entering higher education and finding employment.


For Arab young adults, the transition from high school to adulthood is characterized by uncertainty. Coping with the new challenges posed by the move from a familiar and structured environment to a new stage of life in which they are required to make decisions which will have a huge impact on all aspects of their futures, requires direction and guidance. In this, as in many other issues, Jewish and Arab young adults have very different experiences.

Jewish young adults (excluding the ultra-Orthodox) are required to serve in the IDF after completing high school, and so--decisions about their future are deferred for several years. Though military service is mandatory, it also offers opportunities and tools that later facilitate entry into the labor market, including vocational training and courses, gaining experience in different roles, developing relationships outside the social milieu in which one was raised, and even the opportunity to complete secondary education and matriculation, for those who were unable to do so in high school. In addition, towards the end of their military service, soldiers are eligible for a range of workshops preparing them for civilian life.

The experience of Arab young adults in Israel is fundamentally different. They do not serve in the IDF, and thus must enter the labor market at a younger age, when they still have not fully matured. Their transition from adolescence to adulthood is shorter and more abrupt, and the demands made of them pose significant challenges. Those whose parents or immediate environment are not equipped to guide them toward higher education or well-paying employment can find themselves entirely detached and disengaged for extended periods of time, which in turn lowers their chances of acquiring higher education or quality employment in the future.

Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) show that in 2019, 38% of Arab men aged 18–19 were NEET, and only 41% were working. By comparison, only 17% of Jewish men (not including the ultra-Orthodox) were defined as NEET, and 60% were working. While NEET rates drop for Arab males with age, as more of them begin working, they remain higher than the parallel rates for Jewish men. Moreover, by contrast with Arab women, the percentage of young Arab men entering higher education is low, and has not increased in recent years. It is therefore safe to assume that many NEET Arab men who eventually begin working are employed in low-end and poorly paid jobs.

Consequences of NEET among young Arab men: For many young Arabs, not studying or working makes them vulnerable to the rising tide of organized crime. Young Arab men who can see no prospect of gaining higher education or well-paid employment can easily be tempted to enter the criminal world. Criminal organizations are well aware of the distressing situation of young adults in Arab society, and exploit this by offering them easy money and a sense of belonging and self-efficacy. From the moment a young person is drawn into criminal activity, it becomes very difficult to return them to a normative life path.

The situation among young Arab women is different, but no better. In 2019, 43% of Arab women aged 18–19 were NEET, and only 19% were working. Again, by way of comparison, only 12% of non-Haredi Jewish women were defined as NEET, and 74% were employed. In traditional societies, and in specific sectors of Israel’s Arab population, young women are exposed to the expectation from their immediate environment, and often from themselves, to marry, have children, and become homemakers as soon as they finish high school. In recent years, this expectation has been deferred by several years to allow women to gain a higher education, but this accomplishment is not necessarily translated into successful integration into the labor market after the completion of their studies.

It is important to note that the expectations and gender norms in Arab society are very much fueled by failures on the part of the State. The acute lack of early childhood daycare centers in the Arab sector, inadequate public transportation , the dearth of industrial and commercial areas in Arab locales, and the discrimination experienced by Arab women in the labor market are all significant obstacles to the integration of these women into the workforce.

Thus, by contrast with young Arab men, the percentage of young Arab women classified as NEET, does not decline with age, but instead-- increases: After the age of 22–23, there is a drop in the percentage of women in academic studies, but this is not matched by an equivalent increase in employment rates. Consequently, the percentage of NEET young Arab women increases to 51% in the 24–29 age group.

Education as a key factor

Not surprisingly, socioeconomic family background plays a significant role in the likelihood of an Arab young adult becoming classified as NEET. The data indicate that parents of NEET young adults tend to have lower employment rates and lower income. Similarly, there is a negative association between parents’ level of education (especially mother’s education) and the probability of a young adult being NEET. This association is especially strong for young Arab women, as revealed in the finding that only 2% of young Arab women aged 22–24 who grew up with a mother holding an academic degree are classified as NEET, compared with 37% of their peers with mothers with lower education. Furthermore, the individual’s own level of education and the socioeconomic ranking of the locale in which he or she resides also have a direct impact on the chances for employment or higher education—indicating that the problem is a structural one.

Some 35% of Arab young adults aged 19–23 living in locales that fall into Socioeconomic Cluster 1 (the lowest cluster as defined by the CBS) are NEET, compared with just 18% of Arab young adults living in Clusters 4 and above. Similarly, 44% of those who did not finish high school are NEET, compared with just 10% of those who reported studying for an academic degree. Young Arab men and women from low socioeconomic backgrounds are simply not given an equal opportunity to gain higher education, and they have no access to any guidance on this matter. As a result, many of them find themselves with no educational or employment prospects for the future, and often lack any expectations or ambitions of their own.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

The data presented here are correct as of 2019. Presumably, due to the severe consequences of the pandemic for the labor market, these trends have intensified in the course of 2020, and it is not clear how quickly and to what extent the market will recover. Reports on the impact of the crisis on the labor market are being published almost daily by relevant bodies, including the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Chief Economist Division at the Ministry of Finance, and the Israel Employment Service. Almost all of these reports reveal that Arab society in Israel has been harder hit than the rest of the population, and it is expected that getting Arab citizens back into the workforce will be more challenging.

Other groups noted in these reports as having particularly suffered from the effects of the pandemic, are young adults and low-salary workers. Thus, many Arab young adults are at heightened risk of being ousted from the workforce, struggling to enter higher education, and becoming disconnected from the economy and Israeli society. Failure to address this issue will lead- at best-to frustration, low self-esteem, and chronic unemployment among many Arab young adults. In the worst-case scenario, it will create fertile ground for recruitment of these young people into criminal organizations.


The first years after high school can be critical in shaping the future of young adults. Due to structural flaws and a failure by the state to adequately and effectively address the issue, today--many Arab young adults today are unable to find their place in society. This situation demands the urgent attention of all relevant government ministries, and they must work together in a coordinated fashion.

We recommend that that a special agency or administration be established, which will be charged with responding to the needs of all young adults who are not subject to mandatory military service and who are not interested in participating in state-run national civilian service programs. These young people should be offered “gap year” programs to provide them with the guidance and the tools that will help them in making important decisions with regard to continuing their studies and with regard to employment, and which—for the long-term-- will also cut down the number of NEET Arab young adults.