1 in 5 Israelis take care of individuals with disabilities for free

Science and Health

More than one out of five Israeli adults provide care without financial compensation for their relatives and others who suffer from disabilities – and some take care of more than one person. This investment in caregiving impacts their ability to work for pay in the labor market, and many of the 1.2 million caregivers are desperate for some type of support.

A new study by Jerusalem’s independent, non-partisan Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel has just released research on the characteristics of these caregivers and the type of care and the amount of time they give, as well as the impact that they experience.

The study showed that many caregivers invest 10 hours or more per week – the equivalent of a day’s work. The ultra-Orthodox (haredim) care for family members in greater numbers. In the population at large, those aged between 50 and 59 carry the heaviest burden because they care for their own young children as well as for aging parents. Still, the study found that the majority of caregivers maintain that they have not experienced any harm to their ability to work outside of the home.

The study was carried out by Rachel Arazi, a guest researcher at the Taub Center who is a doctoral student in management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba; emeritus economics Prof. Benjamin Bental at the University of Haifa; and Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, an epidemiologist and public health physician and head of BGU’s School of Public Health. Their study was based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics’ social survey. The researchers divided the disabilities that required caregiving into three main categories – physical disabilities including mobility difficulties due to old age or physical disability; cognitive disabilities, also due to old age or emotional issues; and mental disabilities, due to autism, intellectual disabilities or loneliness.

Fully 22% of the non-haredi Jews, 34% of the haredim and 17% of the Arabs care for a family member. The majority of the assistance in Arab society (76%) is for impairments to physical function. Among haredim, care for mental disabilities is relatively more common (27%) than among non-haredi Jews (15%) and Arabs (12%). The differences among groups are likely to be due to the more traditional structure of haredi and Arab societies, where often, those in need of assistance live with other family members, as well as differences in the incidence of dementia in the different populations. It is also possible that since mental disabilities are not a problem of aging, their relative frequency in the haredi society, which is quite young, is rising.

Data on the likelihood in different sectors of being a caregiver. (credit: Rachel Arazi, Benjamin Bental and Nadav Davidovitch/Taub Center)

Most caregivers do not live with those they care for

In an examination of the time spent in caregiving, the researchers found that most caregivers (79%) do not live with those they care for. About 28% of caregivers spend up to two hours a week, about 18% spend between three and five hours a week, about 18% spend six to nine weekly hours; about 28% said that they spend more than 10 weekly hours in caregiving activities. That is, more than half of family caregivers, who represent about 10% of the working-age population, invest the equivalent of one day a week in caring for a family member for half a year or more. More haredim and married people care for family members, and those ages 50 to 59 carry most of the burden.

The likelihood of those aged 40 to 49 and 50 to 59 to be caregivers is substantially higher than for those ages 20 to 29. “This fact supports what has been found in many other studies – that the main burden falls on those between the ages of 40 and 60 who are often called the “sandwich” generation since they care for young children and older parents and therefore are the ones who are more likely to crash under the weight of the burden,” explained Arazi.

Haredim are caregivers more often than other populations

The chances of haredim caring for a family member of any generation is high at about a third of the population – substantially higher than among non-haredi Jews and Arabs. Among non-haredi Jews and Arabs the share caring for parents or children are similar, although the likelihood that an individual in Arab society will care for a family member of the same generation – for example, a spouse or sibling – is close to half that of non-haredi Jews. Moreover, about 82% of Arabs are not involved at all in caregiving, versus about 79% of non-haredi Jews.

It was also found in the study that married individuals are more likely to care for family member of their generation or from the next generation than unmarried individuals. No differences were found between men and women in the likelihood of caring for a family member.

The amount of time invested in caregiving rises with age, and those with a high-school education spend more hours in caregiving than those with higher education or those without a high school education. Arabs and haredim spend more time per week caregiving than non-haredi Jews – 39% of Arabs and 40% of haredim spend 10 hours or more per week, versus 28% among non-haredi Jews.

Although married people spend more time caring for a family member than the unmarried, 39% of those who are unmarried give 10 hours or more to caregiving versus 28% of the married individuals. In an examination by gender, it was found that women spend more time caregiving than men – 34% of women give 10 hours or more per week, versus 26% of men.

Employment status has an effect, as expected, on the number of hours devoted to caregiving; 39% of unemployed caregivers spend 10 weekly hours or more in caregiving activities, versus 27% of employed caregivers. While the vast majority of caregivers work – about 88% – respondents claimed that caregiving did not affect their work. Only five percent reported missing days of work, four percent reported missing hours of work, two percent shortened their work hours, and only one percent left their place of work because of their caregiving responsibilities.

“One out of every 10 Israeli adults aged 20 or older invests time in long-term caregiving for a family member the equivalent of one day a week. The most striking finding from the research is the high rate of caregivers among haredim – about a third of them care for a family member from some generation,” concluded Davidovitch.

“While the majority of caregivers said that their work was not harmed by the time spent caregiving, the responsibilities of caregiving nonetheless have an impact on many aspects of life such as career and interpersonal relationships, and additional research is required to understand the social and economic implications of caregiving, particularly among different population groups.”