The U.N. is not a particularly honest source for data. But its annual Development Program Report does have a reputation for probity.
According to a very distinguished Israeli intellectual--a former minister of education and now a professor of law at the interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya--Amnon Rubinstein, writing in today's Jerusalem Post, "Unexpected Expectancy," apprizes of the fact that "life expectancy in violence-ridden, tense Israel (is) the 10th highest in the world." This includes all denizens in the country: that is, Jews, Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs, Druze. The datum is
"Below France, Italy, Sweden and Spain," Rubinstein tells us, "but above Norway, Canada and New Zealand." And, counter-intuitively, "much above the United Kingdom (79.8 years) and the United States (79.6)." These statistics are general averages. Jewish women on average live to be 83.9 and Jewish men to 80.5.
The author parses out explanations for the differentials between Israel's Arab citizens and its Jewish ones.
Furthermore, Israel is a divided society, and its Arab minority, although enjoying a standard of living superior even to that of the oil-rich Arab states, is poorer than the Jewish majority. Indeed, there is an average discrepancy of 3.8 years in life expectancy between the two communities.
Here is a desolating comparison in comparisons:
A recent survey in the UK showed that life expectancy in London’s Kensington-Chelsea neighborhood is 17 years (!) higher than that which prevails a few miles away in Tottenham Green; and in the US the discrepancy between whites and blacks is five years.
Demography always intrigues me, not only intrinsically but for evaluative purposes. The first scholars whom I read who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union (and were ridiculed for it) were Nicholas Eberstadt and Emmanuel Todd.
Rubinstein's analysis of the statistics of life are extremely optimistic for Israel. And here's why:
There is a further fact which has to be noted: Israelis not only live longer but, as sociologist Oz Almog notes, they lead a longer active life than their peers in other countries. Perhaps this is why Israelis accepted with equanimity the postponement of the right to pension by two years from 65 to 67 for men and 60 to 62 for women, and why they cannot comprehend the French rage against the postponement of the retirement age to 62.
Needless to say, the gaps in society are very troubling, and there should be a national effort (absent in the proposed budget) to shrink them. An added result of such shrinkage would be greater clarity as to whether noneconomic factors play a role in the life expectancy of different sectors.
But in the meantime we may sit back and take pride in this unique achievement: It is totally unexpected that our violence-ridden, tense, relatively poor country should precede rich welfare states such as Norway, Canada and Germany in this important criterion measuring human development and quality of life.
Let’s leave the reasons for this miracle aside – perhaps the reason is that we prefer humous to hamburgers, or the ever-summery weather we complain about – and just gloat.