Education and Economic Mobility

Another factor that correlates with educational attainment among current school age youth is the educational level of their fathers. In order to examine this relationship, a very specific sub-sample needs to be constructed because of, among other reasons, the nature of the life cycle of the Palestinian family. This sub-sample consists of those who are currently between 20 to 29 years, have completed their educations, are still unmarried and who are still living in their father's home. The relationship between these individuals' educational attainment and the education received by their fathers (or heads of households) reveals - as expected - a positive relationship between the two (table 5.5). Because the sample in question consists of only 117 individuals, it is not possible to provide a detailed breakdown.

Table 5.5 Educational attainment of 20-29 age group by the educational attainment of their heads of household
Educational level head
of household
Years of education of 20-29 age group
9 years or less10 years or more
9 years or less5050
10 years or more1288

The effects of education on employment and income will be examined in subsequent chapters. However, it can be noted that, unlike Western societies, in which increased education correlates strongly with increased income, in Palestinian society this correlation is weaker. Table 5.6 is based on an economic classification of the Palestinian population into the thirds ranging from the poorest third (0-33%) to the richest third (67-100%). (This classification will be discussed at length in chapter 6.)

Table 5.6 Wealth categories by educational attainment
Educational level Head of HouseholdLower thirdMiddle thirdUpper third
13 or more223048

Table 5.6 indicates the comparative weakness in the correlation between education and economic resources.In a Western society it would be unusual to find that almost 20% of those with no education at all, individuals who one can assume are probably illiterate, nonetheless belong to the upper economic third of society. Reversely, for those in the bottom third of Palestinian society, except for those with no education, increasing educational attainment does not seem to be reflected in increasing possession of economic assets. This pattern may indicate a lack of possibilities for translating education into wealth, although there are strong regional variations. In Gaza, for instance, 24% of the heads of households with post-secondary education are among the poorest one third and 39% are among the top one third. In Arab Jerusalem only 2% of the most educated household heads are found among the poorest third and a full 83% are among the richest third. However, notably in Arab Jerusalem, of those household heads who have no education at all, a full 44% of them are also among the richest third of the population.

This data suggests the persistence of traditional stratification patterns in which economic position is to an important extent determined by the social status of the family and the access such status gives to other resources. Economic institutions in the occupied territories continue to be deeply embedded in kinship structures. Family connections remain decisive in obtaining employment particularly in the white collar category. The relation between education and economic mobility becomes clearer when the differential effects of education on the refugee and non-refugee populations are examined (table 5.7).

Table 5.7 Wealth categories for refugees and non-refugees by educational attainment
Wealth CategoriesEducational Level of Head of Household
01-67-910-1213 or more
Lower third
Middle third
Upper Third

As expected, UNRWA refugees are heavily over-represented in the lowest wealth income category and even those with the highest educational level remain somewhat over-represented in the lowest category in relation to the general population. Except for those refugees with no education, increased education seems to have only limited impact on economic standing. The pattern for non-refugees is of a different nature and there is a correlation between increasing wealth and increasing education. While 58% of non-refugees with advanced studies are in the highest income category, only 13% are in the lowest. This correlation, however, should not be interpreted as a straightforward causal relationship. Instead, the figures for both refugees and non-refugees suggest that the role of intact kinship groups, and especially the links between these groups and property, are more critical than education in determining the household's economic position. While refugees might retain large networks of kinship relations, the connection between these networks and property was to a large extent severed in 1948.

These issues will be explored more fully in the chapters dealing with household resources, employment and social stratification.


al@mashriq                       960715