Israel Facing Rapidly Aging Population, Says OECD

It's also first in private insurance for custodial care, but Israel must make plan for future needs.

The growth rate of Israel's elderly population is among the highest in the Western world and will rise further, says the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A study by the OECD, a grouping of the world's most developed economies including Israel, defines the elderly as people 75 and over. The organization sought to gauge the preparedness of member countries to provide custodial care for their senior citizens.

The time is now to gear up for comprehensive care for the elderly because their numbers are expected to grow substantially in the coming years, the OECD warns. These demands are expected to have a significant economic impact in light of the high cost of custodial care. Israel's Health Ministry has announced that it will release a plan shortly to address the country's growing elderly population.

The OECD study, which was carried out over the past two years in all the organization's member states, found that in the OECD, the number of people 80 and over by 2050 will be two and a half times the number now, increasing to 10% of the population from 4%.

In Israel in the next 20 years, people 75 and older will constitute 6.7% of the population, compared with 4.6% today. One explanation for the rapid expansion is the immigration wave from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, which brought a million immigrants to the country, including many who are now reaching old age.

Nonetheless, Israel remains a young country and ranks first among OECD members in the proportion of children 14 and under. The proportion of elderly here is still among the lowest in the OECD.

The portion of the workforce in Western countries engaged in custodial care of the elderly is about 1% to 2%, but that is expected to double by 2050, the OECD says. In Israel, the proportion of foreign workers among providers of custodial care is currently the second highest in the OECD, after Italy. Half of all custodial care staff here are foreign workers. In the OECD, 90% of custodial nursing caregivers are women; most of them are no longer young. The field suffers from high turnover, which affects the quality of care.

The organization is promoting policies that encourage family members to be more involved in providing care for the elderly; it says this could obviate or delay expensive institution-based custodial care. On the other hand, Israelis are much more likely to be insured for custodial nursing care than their counterparts elsewhere in the West. More than 60% of Israelis have such coverage compared with 10% in the United States and France.

The Health Ministry warns however that since medical and custodial care are completely separate, some patients fall through the cracks.