In recent decades, family structure in Israel as well as in other developed countries has undergone far-reaching changes. The very concept of family has been redefined and its geographical, physical, legal, economic, and biological boundaries have become blurred. Following changes in modern society, diverse postmodern family models have emerged. The change is even more pronounced over time, and the concept of family no longer necessarily refers to the traditional family unit that stays together for life. These changes may have various implications for the welfare system. This study was commissioned by the Senior Division for Research, Planning, and Training at the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs with the purpose of informing policy and laying the groundwork for a professional discourse on the adjustments required in light of the changing trends.
The overreaching goal of this study is to explore the changing trends in family structure in Israel in recent decades in comparison with the trends in other developed countries and the potential implications of these changes for the welfare system.
The changing trends in family structure in Israel were explored by analyzing data derived from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) (Statistical Abstract of Israel, annual Labor Force Surveys); the Population and Immigration Authority (the Population Registry); the National Insurance Institute (NII) (annual Poverty and Social Gaps Reports); and studies conducted in Israel. In addition, special processing methods were used to analyze data from the CBS annual Social Surveys and Households Income and Expenditure Surveys. For the purpose of comparison with the changing trends in family structure in other developed countries, data were collected from various sources, mainly from OECD publications.
The issues arising from the changing trends in family structure in Israel and their potential implications for the welfare system were examined based on an international review of academic papers and open access Internet sources such as research reports and publications related to plans and policy papers (gray literature) from Israel.
Family structure in Israel is far more stable than that in other developed countries. However, in Israel too, changing trends in family structure and characteristics have been evident in recent decades: an increase in the age of marriage and the age of first childbirth; an increase in the overall fertility rate; the declining stability of the institution of marriage; an increase in the divorce rate; an increase in the prevalence of non-traditional family models; an increase in the number of children born out of wedlock; a decrease in the size of households (mainly due to the increase in the elderly population); an increase in the prevalence of non-family or childless households; a decrease in the prevalence of households in which one family and other non-family members or two or more families live together; an increase in the prevalence of families with children with disabilities; and a higher childhood disability rate in the Arab population in Israel. The findings show higher rates of the traditional family structure in the Arab population and the ultra-Orthodox population although changing trends in family structure are evident among the Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations as well.
Some of the issues that are of concern to policymakers in various developed countries, such as the significant decline in birth rates and the anticipated aging of the population, are of less concern to the policymakers in Israel. At the same time, certain issues and needs with implications for the welfare system are unique to Israel: the need to adopt a modern perspective of the family and to adapt the databases of the CBS and the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs accordingly; the need to update the training of social workers by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs to reflect the new perspective; the need to cope with negative attitudes toward and exclusion of non-traditional family models; the need to promote up-to-date perspectives of inter-family relationships and family roles; the need to redefine parents’ roles in the family; the need to enhance informal social support for some of the non-traditional family models; the need to cope with the increase in the number of people, both children and adults, who experience mental distress due to the changes in family structure over time; the need to cope with the increase in the number of people living in poverty due to the growing number of separated and divorced families; the need to cope with the increase in the prevalence of families with children with disabilities and with the higher childhood disability rate in the Arab population in Israel.
We expect the changing trends in family structure in Israel evidenced in recent decades to continue at the same pace in the coming decades. However, since the anticipated trend may not materialize, we suggest continued follow-up of the changes and processes taking place in family structure in Israel in the coming years.