Demographic Trends

The Israeli population aged rapidly in the 1970s, mainly because of the aging of the population present in 1940-1960, which was composed overwhelmingly of immigrants. The decrease in fertility rates (similar to that which occurred throughout the Western world in the last half- century) and the increase in life expectancy were factors of lesser importance. The elderly population group (65+) grew by 72% during the 1970s, from 200,000 to 330,000. Israel had roughly 400,000 seniors in the 1980s and more than half a million in 1993. As a share of the total population, the elderly accounted for 6.8% in 1970, 8.6% in 1980, and 9.4% in 1993. Another factor in the growing number of seniors is immigration from the former Soviet Union. By the year 2000, roughly 10% of Israel’s population will be aged 65 or over.

The share of the "old-old" (75+) among the elderly (65+) hardly increased between 1960 and 1980, inching from 31% to 32%. A dramatic change occurred in the 1980s, boosting the share of this population subgroup to 42% by 1990. The share of persons aged 75+ is expected to stabilize by 2000, but the 85+ population group is expected to increase by nearly 100% to 31,000 persons.

Until the 1980s, women accounted for roughly 50% of the elderly. Since then, their share has risen to 56% and is expected to reach 58% by the end of the decade, by which time women will also account for 60% of those aged 75+.

Family Relations

Sixty percent of the elderly are married. Eighty-one percent of elderly men are married, twice the percentage of elderly women. Among those aged 75 and over, 75% of the men are married as against only 33% of the women. The proportion of never-married and divorced elderly is a negligible 2%.

The proportion of unaccompanied elderly rose from 12% in 1961 to 26.9% in 1983 (according to the 1983 Population Census). The%age of unaccompanied elderly women is 39.9, and they include half of women aged 80 and over. Most of Israel’s seniors (87%) have at least one child, and the vast majority are in close contact with their children (figures 5 and 6). Over 80% see their children at least once a week; only 4% see them less than once a month.

Social Status and Employment

Leadership and leading positions are passing from the hands of persons who have passed age 65 to the younger generations. Wishing to remain involved, some of the elderly continue to take part in the labor force. Many seniors need to stay on the job for economic reasons. As in other Western countries, however, the share of the elderly in the labor force is diminishing, although it remains high compared to other countries at 11% in 1993 (19% of the men and 6% of the women).

The labor-force participation rate of elderly Jewish men declined from 43% in 1966 to 23% in 1989. The trend among Jewish women aged 60 and over is heading in the opposite direction, apparently because the retirement age for women has been raised from 60 to 65.

Levels of education correlate closely with labor-force participation for both elderly women and elderly men. Thirty-four percent of men and 15% of women who have at least 16 years of schooling participate in the labor force. Half of the working elderly are exempt from standard retirement policies because they are self-employed. Those with physically demanding occupations tend to retire earlier.

Upon retirement, many of the elderly (10% of persons aged 60+ in 1985) immerse themselves in various kinds of voluntary activity. Most elderly volunteers come from the middle class, have higher education, and are of European or Western origin. They also tend to be active among their friends and in their communities.

Oriental and non-Jewish elderly devote more time to their families and to religious activities. Twenty percent of those aged 65+ belong to senior citizens’ clubs. Many enroll in studies at universities and regional colleges.

Economic Status and Sources of Income

The principal sources of income for the Israeli elderly are employers’ pensions and old-age benefits from the National Insurance Institute (NII). The latter is set at a proportion of the national average wage: 16% for an unaccompanied person, 24% for a couple in which only one spouse is eligible. The indexation of pensions to the national average wage helps maintain the value of the pensions commensurate with the average standard of living countrywide.

Although Israel is still a young country, the proportion of employers’ pensions is rising as the number of eligibles grows. Nevertheless, one- third of the elderly receive income-maintenance payments from the NII. These benefits, meant to keep individuals’ income from falling below the poverty line, are set at 25% of the national average wage for a single elderly person and 37% for an elderly couple. Many seniors have an even lower standard of living because their pension entitlements were used prematurely or accrued at a low level. Because these people do not qualify for income maintenance, their economic circumstances are very shaky. The elderly are therefore considered a vulnerable group, noted for low income and high incidence of poverty.

In 1991, the incomes of 62% of the elderly placed them below the poverty line before NII pensions. Only 16% remained below the poverty line after receiving these pensions, thus illustrating the tremendous effectiveness of the pension system in Israel. Because most elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union qualify for old-age pensions but have not accumulated seniority at their jobs in Israel, the percentage of seniors whose sole income is from old-age pensions is not expected to decline in the near future.

Elderly men are more affluent than elderly women in all age groups. Twice as many elderly men as women receive regular pensions from their employers, and more elderly men than women hold regular salaried jobs. The younger the elderly are, the higher the percentage who receive employers’ pensions. This indicates an improvement in the pension system and an increase in accrual of pension entitlements from labor.

The increase in the share of women in the labor force will improve the economic circumstances of elderly women, whose share among pension recipients will rise. These developments will raise the average income of elderly persons of both sexes and narrow the large economic disparities between them.

Functional Disability and the Long-Term Care Law

The number of functionally disabled elderly (people with difficulty in washing, dressing, and eating) is rising rapidly. In 1985, 4.3% of all people aged 65-69 were functionally disabled, as were 11.4% of the 75-79 age group and 31% of the 85+ cohort. The percentage of functionally disabled elderly women was even higher, and the sexual disparity widens with age. The population of functionally disabled is expected to rise by 50% by the end of the decade. Only 5% of the elderly lived in seniors’ homes and other institutions in 1983. The major change in recent years with respect to community care was the enactment of the Long-Term Care Law in 1986, which assists the needy elderly on the basis of personal eligibility, as set forth in uniform criteria.

  Figure 5: Population Aged 60 and Over by Distance of Residence from Closest Child, 1985 (Pct.)  Have no children               13 All children abroad             3 Live elsewhere in Israel       23 Live in same neighborhood      39 Live in same home or building  22            Figure 6: Population Aged 60 and Over by Frequency of Visits of at Least One Child, 1985*          Every day or almost every day  44  % Once or twice a week           83  % Once or twice a month          14  % Less than once a month          4.1%          *Excluding persons aged 60 or over who live with their children or who have no children in Israel