OECD Report Says Israelis Are Wealthy, but Fearful

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Israelis can take pleasure in knowing they have more savings than most of their peers in countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. They're in the top of half of all OECD countries for life satisfaction, but they suffer from income equality and fear for their personal safety.

That's how the OECD's "How's Life?" report, released on Tuesday, summed up existence for the average Israeli. All told, Israel ranked in the middle of the OECD pack for material living conditions and subjective well-being.

The report divides well-being into 11 categories and ranked member countries in three categories: the top 20% of countries based on their performance on the 11 indicators, the 60% of countries that performed in the middle and the 20% of countries who performance on the indicators put them at the bottom in terms of well-being.

Israel was placed in the middle category along with countries like Germany, Finland, France, Japan and South Korea. Among the top-performing countries were Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Australia, Canada and the United States. Among the countries listed as the worst performers were Mexico, Chile and Hungary.

The OECD said that while significant improvement have been made in the quality of life in member countries over the past 20 years, sizable differences between and within countries remain.

Surprisingly, in terms of average household financial wealth, Israel placed in the upper tier of countries, with an average of $50,000 of savings per household. While countries such as Japan, the U.S. and the United Kingdom placed higher on this indicator, Israelis were still above the OECD average and have more financial wealth than residents of countries such as France, Italy and Australia.

Israel also performed relatively well in the report in terms of average life satisfaction, a subjective indicator taken from polls, that put the country at 13th among 34 countries. Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden were the leaders in this category, while Hungary, Portugal and Greece were at the bottom.

However, in comparison with other OECD countries, income inequality not only remains high in Israel but has increased since the 1990s. Israel had the fifth highest level of inequality, according to the OECD, after Chile, Mexico, Turkey and the U.S., and was well above the OECD average. The countries with the lowest levels of inequality were Iceland, Slovenia, Norway and Denmark.

Israel scored toward the bottom in terms of the percentage of the working-age population in the labor force, with a rate close to Chile and Mexico, but with an improvement over its level in the 1990s. At the top of the list were Switzerland, Iceland and Norway, which have labor force participation rates of close to 80%. At the same time, Israel was well below the OECD average for the rate of long-term unemployment, at close to 1%.

Less surprising was that feelings of personal physical security are relatively low in Israel, compared to the OECD average. Only slightly more than 60% of people in Israel surveyed said they felt safe walking in the streets at night in the city where they lived, compared with an OECD average of 70%. Some 90% said they had a friend or relative they could always rely on, close to the OECD average, but rankings for women in areas such as poverty and representation in parliament were low.

About a fifth of Israelis said they work 50 hours a week or more, putting them 32rd among residents of OECD countries. In Western Europe, the portion putting in that many hours was as low as 1% to 2.5%, the report said.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH: Israelis shopping at a mall. Life isn't so bad here after all. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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