Trends in Life Expectancy and Lifespan Variation between Arabs and Jews in Israel, 1982–2016

Erez Shomron, Tel Aviv University
Isaac Sasson , Tel Aviv University

Israel’s continued improvements in life expectancy at birth, currently exceeding 82 years for men and women combined, are coupled with persistent and increasing ethnic disparities in longevity. Substantial differences in life expectancy exist between Israel’s Jewish majority population and its disadvantaged Arab minority. Although several studies documented Jewish-Arab differences in life expectancy over time, none has examined trends in lifespan variability. Analyzing vital statistics data from 1982 to 2016, we find that life expectancy increased more rapidly among Jews than among Arabs. By contrast, declines in lifespan variation were greater among Arabs, which nevertheless remains higher relative to their Jewish counterparts. A contour decomposition of those trends reveals two disparate phenomena. First, Jewish-Arab disparities in infant and child mortality have narrowed over the study period. Second, the Arab old-age mortality advantage, which existed in 1982, had reversed by 2016, accounting for much of the widening gap in life expectancy. We discuss possible explanations for the reversal in age-specific mortality inequalities. The narrowing of infant and child mortality differentials between Jews and Arabs may be attributed to improvements in neonatal care and decreasing prevalence of consanguineous marriages among the latter. The disappearance of the Arab old-age mortality advantage may be related to cumulative exposure to social adversity and institutional discrimination over the life course, improvements in data quality over time, or changes in cohort-based mortality selection.

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 Presented in Session 21. Disparities in Survival and Mortality