Is the Quality of Life in Israel Getting Better? Data Say Yes

Latest CBS figures show improvement in half of 70 parameters and decline in just 10

Israeli flags in south Tel Aviv, July 2018.
Meged Gozani

Is life in Israel better than ever? It depends who you ask, but if you ask the Central Bureau of Statistics their answer is a pretty unequivocal yes. Not only have Israelis’ material lives improved, but since 2017 their quality of life has also been enhanced in such areas as environment and personal security.

The figures, which were released by the CBS this week, showed that in the 70 parameters it measures, life in Israel improved in 35 of them. Twenty-five showed no significant change and only 10 were worse.

That caps a long-term improvement: Since 2002, when the CBS began first measuring quality of life, 36 parameters that have been surveyed since the start showed an improvement and just five showed deterioration.

The CBS ultimately plans to measure 88 factors, and towards that end added 10 for its 2017 survey, including rate of internet usage, the percentage of employed people who feel their job offers opportunities for advancement, and the amount of property theft relative to income.

Governments like Israel’s have started to measure warmer, fuzzier parameters to give them a broader and, they hope, more accurate picture of how the country is doing than figures like gross domestic product and median income indicate. Israeli GDP grew 3.2% last year, the highest among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

The OECD’s Better Life Initiative has been measuring quality of life issues among its members since 2011. Its Better Life Index gave Israel a score of 5.8, compared with 8 for Finland and 4 for Turkey.

In its November 2017 report, the last one released, the OECD said Israel’s performance was “mixed” – pay is low and work hours are long but job security is good, people live longer than average and believe they are in good health.

Six years ago the UN declared March 20 the International Day of Happiness and the United Arab Emirates has a Happiness Ministry.

Amid the generally improving quality of life, though, Israel’s statistics bureau found some setbacks. The rate of people seriously injured in automobile accidents rose to 23.5 per 100,000 population (although the rate of deaths fell). The percentage of 7th graders who are overweight rose to 30.3%, but among 1st graders it held unchanged at 18.3%.

Not surprisingly, given soaring housing prices, the proportion of Israelis spending 30% or more of their monthly disposable income on housing climbed to 30.9%. For those in the lowest income decile, the rate was more than 50%.

Household debt rose to 48.5% of GDP in 2016 (the latest year for which figures are available). However, compared to other Western economies, the rate remains low and some economists argue that it should grow to ensure more economic growth.

Other parameters showed a clear improvement, for instance the percentage of waste in Israel that is recycled and energy generated from renewable sources. In a measure of social mobility, the CBS found that the gap in higher education between those students whose parents had a degree and those who parents didn’t had narrowed.

Housing prices may have risen, but at least homeowners are more satisfied now than in the past with their homes: Close to 88% reported they were satisfied with their home in 2017, compared with 80.1% in 2002. The biggest improvement was among Israeli Arabs.

There were also improvements in such things as rate of infant mortality, new cancer cases and job-related measures.

For quality of life, you should live in a city that starts with the Hebrew letter resh. The CBS said that among Israeli towns with populations of more than 100,000, Ramat Gan has the best quality of life, followed by Rehovot and Rishon Letzion. Tel Aviv was No. 4 and Jerusalem just 12th.

The prize goes to Ramat Gan thanks to high average income levels, long life expectancy, a high rate of students passing the high school matriculation exam (bagrut) and spacious homes relative to the number of occupants. Of 37 parameters, Ramat Gan was better than average in all but eight, the CBS found.

Amit Yagur-Kroll, who is in charge of quality of life indicators at the CBS, stressed that there are often big gaps between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.

For instance, the percentage of Jews who say they have faced workplace discrimination is just 9%, versus 17% of Arabs who say they do. The homicide rate per 100,000 population for Israeli Arabs is six times the rate for Jews.

Another big gap is overall satisfaction with life: For Arabs, the rate is 75%, for secular Jews 90% and for ultra-Orthodox Jews 98%.