Social Clubs for the Elderly – National Distribution, Patterns of Activity and Characteristics of Visitors

Social clubs for the elderly are part of an array of  formal social services to improve the quality of life of the elderly population in Israel. They serve primarily as a social framework to relieve loneliness and provide recreation. In addition, they are seen as an important resource to encourage active aging by offering programs and activities of self-empowerment and community volunteering. Given the background of changes in the characteristics of the aging population and in community social services in Israel, the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute (MJB) conducted a study of social clubs for Israel’s elderly in 2010-11. The study was designed to update the national database on these clubs and – together with the recently-published MJB research on daycare centers – to provide a current, comprehensive picture on the supply of frameworks for the elderly population living in the community. Among other things, the study examined the geographic distribution of the clubs, the percentage of the elderly population participating in them, the extent of weekly activities, the characteristics of the participating population, the activities and services offered, and the extent of utilization. It also examined needs for which there is no adequate response.

The study consisted of: 1) a review of the research literature on leisure social frameworks for the elderly; 2) a mapping of social clubs using a questionnaire for the social services in all local authorities in Israel; 3) a sample survey of 230 clubs using a questionnaire for club coordinators; 4) in-depth interviews with key figures in the social service system; 5) focus groups of club participants; 6) a review of issues related to the clubs that emerged in some municipal master plans for the elderly population.

These are some of the findings:

  •  In 2011 there were some 1,400 social clubs for the elderly distributed over urban and rural localities
  •  The percentage of elders participating in clubs is estimated at 14% of the total 65+ age group
  •  Most of the clubs are attended mainly by women; a considerable percentage are 75+
  •  In most of the clubs, the population has a low education; in a third, the prevalence of more educated is higher (secondary school or more)
  •  Compared with the 1990s, today’s clubs provide a wider range of enrichment activities, such as lectures on current events and health
  • Club coordinators were asked about unmet needs: in about half, there is reportedly insufficient funding for enrichment activities, and many are in need of building repairs and better maintenance; in the rural sector, particularly, the transportation service requires reinforcement.

The findings were presented to senior staff at the Service for the Aged and at the Research, Planning and Training Division of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Services, as well as to senior staff of local Social Service Departments. The findings will help policymakers further develop the service and its fuller utilization.

The study was funded with MOLSA’s assistance.