Why Is Men’s Life Expectancy So High in Israel?
Author: Alex Weinreb Policy Research

World Health Organization figures show that, in 2013, the life expectancy for Israeli men was 80.2 years – a figure placing Israel at the top of international rankings. This chapter examines the reasons for this phenomenon.

This chapter examines the factors responsible for the high life expectancy of Israeli men, with Israel ranked among the top five countries in the world in this area. World Health Organization figures show that, in 2013, life expectancy for Israeli men was 80.2 years – this places Israel at the top of world rankings alongside Sweden, just after San Marino and very close to Iceland, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan.

An analysis based on a sample of 170 countries shows that levels of wealth, education, and inequality in a country, as well as its demographic and health characteristics, are not sufficient to explain the highly-ranked life expectancy of Israeli men, which is about 7 years higher than predicted by the model.

The second model, which tests geographical characteristics and religiosity in the country, explains about 3 years of the high life expectancy. The third model takes into account mandatory military service in different countries (according to data from 1990). This model produced a number of findings: (1) In countries that had mandatory military service in 1990, life expectancy was 1.5 years higher in 2013 than in countries without mandatory service. (2) The length of military service matters. In the case of Israel, a variable representing the interaction between military spending as a percent of GDP and length of military service explained 3.6 years of life expectancy. These data support the hypothesis that military service can improve the physical fitness of men, and therefore reduces their chances of death from diseases associated with low levels of physical activity.

Mandatory military service is not a cure all, and there are many causes of death that even extensive and intense physical fitness programs will not prevent against. Some of these include diseases for which Israel ranks very poorly, such as sepsis and kidney disease. Treatment for these diseases requires regular investment in health. In addition, one cannot expect that military service will naturally eliminate the unwanted health effects of poor diet or lack of exercise, especially during childhood.

This paper appears as a chapter in the Center’s annual publication, State of the Nation Report 2016edited by Prof. Avi Weiss.