For Most Israelis, There's No Such Thing as Retirement

Only one in 10 working Israelis aged 65 say they'll retire at 67.

Giora Katzir, 67, a private investigator.
Eyal Toueg

Ilana has been working in the civil service for the past 24 years. She’s 60, meaning she’s eligible to retire in two years, but she’s hoping to keep punching the clock until at least age 67.

“I’ll keep working, primarily because my pension savings will cover barely 70% of what I’ll need when I retire. Otherwise, I’d retire at 62,” she says. “I’m not willing to sit idle at home, and my financial situation doesn’t permit me to study or travel. If I’m able to, I’ll continue working part time after age 67,” she adds.

A new study by the Ministry for Social Equality found that this is a common stance. The study, conducted by Dr. Aviad Tor-Sinai, surveyed 2,700 people before retirement, and concluded that a growing number of people don’t want to retire at the official retirement age (67 for men, 62 for women in Israel). While 4 in 10 employed men aged 50 say they expect to retire before age 67, only 1 in 10 men who are employed at age 65 said the same.

Demographic trends indicate that the elderly population in Israel is expected to increase sharply over the coming years. At the same time, workforce participation is growing, and the effective retirement age is increasing.

The study found that 7 in 10 women ages 55-58, and 8 in 10 men ages 63-67, intend to continue working after they reach the official retirement age. These are incredibly high percentages, and the government committee considering raising the retirement age for women, should take this into account.

Why do people who have worked their whole lives want to keep working? Rivi Beller, the CEO of Vehadarta, an NGO for the advancement of senior citizens, says increased life expectancy, coupled with social changes such as the growing dependence of young adults on their parents, leave many people with no choice.

Rivi Beller, the CEO of Vehadarta.
Courtesy

“In the past, people lived for 10 years after retiring, while now they live 25-30 — a full lifetime,” she says. “When their pensions aren’t enough, people are forced to look for other forms of income. Perhaps some rich people can allow themselves to retire and travel the world, but few have that privilege nowadays.”

Thus, many would-be pensioners realize that they won’t have a chance to slow down, even if they initially planned to do so. The study found that 11% of men and 8% of women who retired wished they could return to work. Most people who expressed this desire had retired before reaching the official retirement age.

“After 45 years of continuous employment, it never occurred to me that I would keep on working past retirement age, but reality made me realize my error,” says Carla Shavit, 63, of Petah Tikva, who retired in September 2014. “I receive pension payments and a National Insurance stipend, but I needed to look for work— both because the pension wasn’t enough for me to maintain my standard of living, and because I needed to fill the hole in my life.”

Dr. Tor-Sinai found that both men and women consider National Insurance to be their main form of retirement income; others include the salary of a working spouse, and savings. Only 6 out of 10 men and 4 out of 10 women have a pension fund of some sort. This helps explain why people in their 50s and 60s feel the need to keep working.

Those without pension funds said they expected National Insurance to be their main source of retirement income, found the study. Of those without pension savings, some 70% of men aged 63-67, and 47% of women aged 59-62, said they intended to keep working past retirement age.

Hannah Zohar, 67, from Tel Aviv, worked at Bank Leumi until she was 61. Now 67, she works at Golan Telecom’s call center, a job she found via Vehadarta and the Ministry for Social Equality.

Hannah Zohar.
Or Aneva

“It’s very difficult to find work after age 60, especially if you don’t have an academic degree,” she said. “But it was important to me to continue working, both for the income and to keep busy,” she says. “I’d go study if I had a large enough pension, but I work shifts, so I have time to volunteer, to go to the theater and spend time with my grandchildren.”

The problem is especially pronounced for the self-employed, particularly women. Some half of self-employed women ages 59-62 have no pension plans.

Giora Katzir, 67, of Kfar Sava, has been self-employed as a private investigator for the past 30 years. The pension arrangement he worked out with one of the insurance companies will allow him to retire only at age 70. “I didn’t really consult with anyone or check it out,” he admits. “I’m still working because my pension starts only at 70, and also because I can, and I love my work,” he says. “I don’t see myself stopping working and sitting at home. I’m young at heart... retirement age needs to be a choice.”

The minister for social equality, Gila Gamliel, is aware of the situation. “With the dramatic increase in life expectancies, there’s been a significant change in the lifestyles of Israel’s older citizens, and the years of ‘active golden age’ is getting longer. Thus, the issue of employment past retirement age has become significant.”

The minister for social equality, Gila Gamliel.
Marc Israel Sellem

She noted the success of her ministry’s Experience Needed program, which connects employers with older job seekers.

“More and more older people are looking for jobs, but it’s not always simple,” Beller noted. “These aren’t people who are used to job seeking, and it’s difficult to step downward — from being a banker to being a call center employee, for instance.”