Israel makes major gains in raising life expectancy

Infant mortality rate also lowered; tops most OECD countries; gap between Jewish and Arab Israelis still considerable.

September 29, 2010 03:40
2 minute read.
Life Expectancy Chart

Life Expectancy 311. (photo credit: Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel)


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Over the last 30 years, the life expectancy of Jewish Israelis has increased significantly and is longer on average than in the OECD countries.

Even Israeli Arabs, who had long lagged behind due to cultural, social, educational and other reasons, now live noticeably longer on average than Americans.

This was reported recently by Jerusalem’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel in a comparative study by Prof.
Dov Chernichovsky, a leading health economist at the Taub Center and at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.

The national health system and other medical improvements have been notably successful in improving outcomes for all Israeli residents – both in absolute and relative terms compared to other developed countries and in narrowing the gaps within Israel, Chernichovsky wrote.

However, the disparity in health outcomes among the various socioeconomic groups, especially between Jewish and Arab Israelis is still considerable, “and this gap is one of the challenges that the system faces going forward,” Chernichovsky wrote in the Taub Center’s The State of the Nation Report: Society, Economy and Policy 2009.

Life expectancy at birth is a very popular overall measure of national health and the public health indicator used in the UN Human Development Index.

In 1980, the life expectancy for Israeli Jews, for Americans and residents of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) developed countries excluding the US was almost identical, at approximately 74 years; life expectancy for Arab Israelis was lower by over two years.

Since then, the gains in Israeli life expectancy have far outpaced those of other countries, Chernichovsky wrote. Life expectancy in the US grew by four years since 1980, and in the rest of the OECD it grew by six years. But for Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, the gain was over seven years.

In a country-by-country comparison in 2005 of life expectancy among Israeli Jews and Arabs to life expectancy in OECD countries and in neighboring countries in the Middle East, Israeli Jews are shown to live longer than the residents of all but four countries in the world.

Despite the substantial increase in life expectancy among Israeli Arabs, and the fact that their life expectancies are already longer than those in the neighboring countries, the US and Denmark, they are still below the OECD average and all other advanced Western countries.

While life expectancy reflects information about health outcomes over entire lifetimes, infant mortality focuses on one narrow and acute aspect of health care: the survival of infants during the first year of life. In 1960, infant mortality rates for Israeli Jews, Americans and residents of the other OECD countries were nearly identical; the rate for Israeli Arabs was much higher, approximately double.

Since then, all countries have shown substantial declines in infant mortality, from over 25 per 1,000 live births to fewer than 10. But the decline in Israel, Chernichovsky showed, is greater than that for the US and slightly exceeds that of the rest of the OECD. Israeli Arabs show the greatest decline of all, reaching American infant mortality rates by the middle of the past decade.

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