Socioeconomic Status and HH Background CharacteristicsIt 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
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
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.
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.
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.