Chapter 8

Socioeconomic Status and HH Background Characteristics

It is reasonable to assume that the socioeconomic status of any HH will be related to other background characteristics. Age, sex, refugee status and locality should be considered important in this respect.

Age and sex
In the absence of any form of social security, ability to find work becomes all the more important, and one would expect that the labour market favours the young rather than the old. Likewise the acquisition of wealth can be assumed to rise as the HH grows older. On the other hand, different historical experiences (war, the introduction of free education, etc.) may cause both variations in possibilities for acquiring skills (education) and in consumption patterns among HHs. Especially important here is perhaps the fact that most elderly Palestinian HHs have not been able to profit from the educational revolution that took place in the 1960s and 70s.

Comparing status scores across HH age groups significant variations are revealed (Figure 8.2).15 The figure suggests a curvilinear pattern. HHs in the 20-29 years age group are over-represented in the lower status categories. In the category 30-39 years the incidence of higher scores is more frequent than in the youngest cohort. Then the level falls somewhat in the 40-49 years group - still at a somewhat higher level than for the youngest cohort - and continues to fall for the 50-59 and 60+ years cohorts. In other words, the socioeconomic status seems first to rise slightly from the young to the young middle-aged, then to fall somewhat for old middle- aged, and further to fall considerably for old HHs.

Figure 8.2 Socioeconomic status by age of HH. Percentages

Due to the generally subordinate role of women, the social status of female headed households may be expected to be lower than that of their male counterparts, and may in some cases rather be determined by the status of the (absentee) male HH. The instance of female HHs is indeed largely due to special circumstances in which the male HH is absent for a longer duration of time for reasons of work. The point is borne out by the higher amount of remittances received in this category (33% among the female as opposed to 6% among male HHs). Hence the individual female HH status may not be an exact reflection of the family socioeconomic status. Comparing the socioeconomic status of male and female headed households (figure not shown), the females appear clearly less fortunate (59% appear in the low status category and no-one in the high status category) than the male ones (15% and 12% are found in the low and high status categories respectively).

As indicated above, it is impossible to offer a conclusive interpretation of the age and gender effects. Age discrepancies may be explained in terms of both generational and life cycle factors. Further, many HHs have experienced complete lack of income in periods of curfews or as a result of changing economic regulations in the occupied territories. Such circumstances, which have been broadly felt, make it difficult to isolate the age effects on economic activities of HHs. Likewise, if the socioeconomic status of female headed households is relatively low, this may be compensated by a higher status ascribed to her absentee husband or to her sons. Suffice it to say that scores for "elderly" and female headed households are generally low, probably caused by a complicated mixture of cultural, age and gender related factors.

The general decrease in status by age, however, suggests a challenge to the traditional conception of a deferential attitude to the family elders, caused by the fact that younger family members now may be able to acquire jobs and income without their mediation.

Locality and Refugee Status
HHs in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem could be expected to show divergent socioeconomic patterns as these three main areas have been differently affected by the years of occupational rule. Figure 8.3 presents the distribution of the stratification index for Gaza, the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem, and is directly comparable with figure 8.1.

Figure 8.3 Socioeconomic status by locality of HH: three main areas. Percentages

Although numbers are small for some categories, which increases the margins of error, the figures are tentatively applied to illuminate the regional variations. Following the curve for Gaza, we observe a quick rise at the lower end of the status index, a turn as we advance from the low to the lower middle category and a falling trend as we move towards the higher strata. Very few Gaza residents enjoy a "high" socioeconomic status. The curve for Arab Jerusalem inverts the pattern for Gaza. The curve rises more or less steadily from the low to the high status side of the index, with a peak at the upper middle level, then falls slowly for higher strata, but at a higher level than for Gaza. West Bank villages assume an intermediate position, close to that of the total distribution. The highest point is located at the left side of the upper middle category. The curve falls steadily at both extremities, but reveals a slightly greater occurrence of lower middle than upper middle scores.
Possible explanations for the differences, which may not be surprising, are dealt with extensively in the previous chapters. Here we would like to focus on some basic factors: Gaza, typically characterized by a massive refugee population, and a very high population density, is also distinguished by severe labour market problems and fewer migration possibilities. Arab Jerusalem, on the other hand, is characterized by its role as a market and service centre for the central West Bank region. It offers religious, health, travel, banking, cultural entertainment and (indeed) political services which are absent, or thinly spread, in the West Bank and Gaza. The creation of a "welfare cushion" should also be noted, by which Jerusalemites are given access to financial support (e.g. National Insurance, Child support, Retirement funds, etc.) not available in the other two regions.16
The West Bank, however, has been less affected by the disruptions of war than Gaza, having a relatively diversified economy which has allowed it to retain to a large extent its pre-war hierarchical social structure. In sum, deprivation is neither as prevalent as in Gaza nor prosperity as evident as in Arab Jerusalem. Despite major changes in agrarian social relations, as a result of increased monetization of the economy and of physical mobility, considerable degree of continuity is encountered here. The main explanation appears to be the existence of village subsistence economy and the family farm, elements which are less pronounced in the two other regions.

There are also significant socioeconomic differences along the "urban" and "rural" axes within each of the three main areas (Figure 8.4). Again focusing on the differences, Gaza camps are heavily over-represented in the lower status category. Gaza City and Gaza villages take similar positions, the occurrence of higher scores slightly more frequent in the latter category. West Bank villages and camps are relatively speaking more common in the lower middle status category. Arab Jerusalem is heavily represented in the upper middle and high status categories, accompanied by West Bank towns. The contrasts are thus striking between on the one hand HHs in Arab Jerusalem and in West Bank towns, and on the other their counterparts in Gaza camps. Six-seven out of ten HHs are found in the two upper status categories in the former regions while eight out of ten HHs are found in the two lower status categories in the latter.

Figure 8.4 Socioeconomic status by locality of HH: urban/ rural/ camp distributions. Percentages

Gaza City and Gaza villages, though, are basically on a par with West Bank villages and camps. More surprisingly, perhaps, West Bank camps show a distribution similar to that of West Bank villages. Further analysis reveals that it is the better housing standards in Gaza City, as indicated by housing amenities, that places it on the level of West Bank camps, whereas it is the lower educational attainments that bring it to the level of West Bank villages. This again may reflect differences in infrastructural provisions (piped water, sewage and electricity) and occupational possibilities in the three areas. The main differences between West Bank villages and West Bank camps, thus, are the housing and occupational standards.17

A comparison of the socioeconomic status of respectively non-refugees, refugees outside camps and refugees living in camps (figure not presented), suggests that camp residence, and not refugee status in itself, is the vital, determining factor. Refugees outside camps and non-refugees are generally located in the lower and upper middle strata, while more camp refugees are found in the lower middle and low categories.

So far focus has been on explaining variations between the different localities, i.e. on general differences. Yet the actual size of the differences should not be ignored. Returning briefly to figure 8.4, more than half of the HHs in the two contrasting regions of Arab Jerusalem and Gaza camps are still all within the range of the two middle status categories, thus indicating a significant element of homogeneity among the areas.

Why are the regional differences not even more frequent and clear-cut? The explanation is probably to be found at the intersection of various social and economic factors. The twin processes of "ruralization" of the cities and "urbanization" of the countryside stand out as possible explanations, as they may be expected to promote homogeneous social conditions in "rural" and "urban" areas alike.

The main factor contributing to the recent social decline in rural areas is the undermining in the value of non-irrigated land as a designator of traditional social status (such land has, however, retained its importance as real estate). New sources of income have emerged outside the traditional village structure and the agricultural sector.18

This change in the role and impact of land ownership is not only due to the upheavals of war, but to an even larger extent to long-term economic trends, invoking a greater part of young people to seek urban wage labour, who are thus freed from the control of landowners or rural notables. In addition the enhanced availability of public education has given rise to professional and semi-professional employment outside the agrarian system, leaving the role of agriculture increasingly marginalized.
Parallel to this "levelling" of the class structure of rural areas, a modification in the social composition of urban areas is occurring. A process of emigration of the landed elite and (more recently) professional and middle classes has been mentioned above, although the ratio of emigrating elites to emigrating lower strata is unknown. The landed elite has, nonetheless, partly been replaced by new ranks of successful businessmen and professionals moving from villages to towns.

The factors contributing to the transformation of rural areas - new possibilities of wage labour in the cities, remittances and access to education - naturally also affect life in urban areas, opening up as they do possibilities for economic (though not necessarily social) mobility for more deprived groups in urban areas.

A process of "ruralization" of townships, an exclusive West Bank phenomenon, should also be noted. This process refers to an increasing number of rural residents seeking employment and/or services in urban areas and ultimately establishing residence there. Nevertheless most Palestinians living in the West Bank today still reside in rural districts, and cannot be characterized as living in a peasant society; that is a society deriving its livelihood from agriculture and being organized socially around the family farm. West Bank townships, in themselves dominated by small trade and small workshops with a minor manufacturing sector, likewise constitute regional markets and administrative service centres for their rural hinterland.

Finally, the similarity may also reflect the strong degree of urban-rural interdependence, as is clearly demonstrated by the even, differential growth rates of towns and villages.


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