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  • In Israel, divorce affects women more negatively than men when it comes to poverty and economic hardship. Tweet This
  • The Marriage Education Movement here in Israel is working to counteract these alarming and expensive statistics by helping to stabilize marriages and families and prevent divorce. Tweet This

Marriages in Israel are facing new challenges, with potentially devastating impacts throughout society. These challenges affect couples and their children, and they also create demand for social services that impact local and state governments. 

Let’s look at some statistics. Some 2.3 million Israelis,1 including over one million children, live below the poverty line, including single parents who work full time. For single-parent families, the incidence of poverty rose sharply from 21.7% in 2015 to 24.2% in 2016.2 Divorced mothers in Israel generally work more hours and earn less than married women. 

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare reports “a significant increase” in governmental expenditures for social services in the last decade, rising to NIS 5.5 billion3 (approximately $1,428,885,835 in U.S. dollars) in 2014, resulting in part from single-headed households, the majority of whom were divorced. Government expenditure for social issues is continuously increasing, and the following statistics from the Central Bureau of Stats, contrasting 1995 with 2016, can be attributed largely to family breakdown:

  • Health services: From 10.4% in 1995 to 13.10% in 2016 
  • Public order services: From 2.9% in 1995 to 4.0% in 2016 
  • Education services: From 15.2% in 1995 to 17.5% in 2016 
  • Social protection services: From 22.3% in 1995 to 27.3% in 2016 (including expenditures for family and children) 
  • Family and children services: From NIS4 11,672 million (approximately $3,336,175 U.S.) in 2014 to NIS 13,564 million (approximately $3,876,960 U.S.) in 2016, a 16% increase over two years alone, with the historical increase expected to continue.

Research5 shows that in Israel divorce affects women more negatively than men when it comes to poverty and economic hardship. Israel’s high fertility level may be a cause of this hardship since it results in a heavier burden on women’s shoulders after divorce. The low level of state support further increases women’s vulnerability. 

Another negative consequence of the burgeoning divorce rate is seen in the workplace, where divorce, according to one international study,6 reduces the productivity of the chief breadwinner by 25-33%, a factor that has serious negative consequences on national productivity. 

Noticed by the Knesset

Testimony presented at the historic Knesset Seminar on Pre-marriage Education in November 2017 demonstrated that in addition to the profound negative psychological impact, divorce is correlated with reduced education and life-time income for the children of divorced parents, reduced income for divorced males, and reduced incomes for women who become single parents of young children. There are also high administrative costs for social service agencies that deal with the down-stream consequences of divorce. 

Hope for Israeli Marriages 

The good news is that the disintegration of marriage is preventable. The Marriage Education Movement here in Israel is working to counteract these alarming and expensive statistics by helping to stabilize marriages and families and prevent divorce. Because prevention is always less expensive and simpler than a cure, it makes tremendous sense for the State of Israel to invest lesser sums in preventing divorce and the devastation that results from it, rather than attempting to pull single-parent households out of poverty. 

Promoting Marriage Education

Marriage Education consists of a variety of classroom-based curricula that teach couples the characteristics of a healthy relationship and the communication and conflict management skills that will equip them to achieve this. The goal is to increase the chances of couples having happy, healthy, and stable relationships.

Marriage Education programs are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, especially because the infrastructure already exists in Israel. Many agencies have goals that align with this work, and there is a general consensus in society about the importance of happy families. 

Pre-marital education is particularly effective when couples are first starting out. Young people are quick learners at this stage in their relationship. The logic of learning effective relationship skills is irrefutable. According to Professor Howard J. Markman, the co-developer of PREP (Prevention Relationship Education Program), a premier marriage education curriculum program, pre-marital education is effective at counteracting the dynamics of negative communication and mismanaged conflict because it helps couples improve their communication and conflict management, thereby improving their satisfaction over time and preventing divorce.

The nonprofit organization, Together in Happiness/B’Yachad B’Osher, which I founded, has been a major proponent for increasing the Israeli public’s awareness of the societal benefits of marriage education initiatives. We have successfully partnered with Professor Markman to offer the Israeli version of PREP (known as I-PREP) to hundreds of engaged and married couples with promising results. In addition to reducing divorces and the wear and tear on couples and their children, we hope to use marriage education in Israel to ultimately help increase productivity, happiness, and the success of our children, as well as their parents. 

Marriages are the backbone of society, so investing in marriage education to help couples learn skills to form and keep stable marriages offers considerable value as a preventive approach. 

Susan Barth is founder and director of Israeli nonprofit, Together in Happiness/B'Yachad B'Osher. She sponsored and chaired the First International Conference on Marriage Education in Israel (attended by over 360 professionals) in Jerusalem in 2011 and launched I-PREP, an innovative marriage education curriculum. She initiated and organized the Knesset Seminar on Pre-marriage Education in 2017.

1. Lee, David, “Startup Nation’s Underbelly: Israel’s child poverty rate tops OECD states,” The Jerusalem Post, 6/19/18.

2. National Insurance Institute, “2016 Poverty and Social Gaps: Annual Report,” Table 8a, pg. 24. 

3. NIS – The currency of the State of Israel is the New Israeli Shekal, abbreviated to NIS. The average exchange rate of the US Dollar to the Shekel is 1 USD: 3.5 Shekal(im) 

4. Bank of Israel, Exchange Rates.

5. Lewin, Alisa C., and Haya Stier, “Marital status, gender, and material hardship: Evidence from Israel.” Advances in Life Course Research 35 (March 2018): 46-56.

6. After Divorce Support, “The Effects of Divorce in the Workplace.”