Study: Military service contributes to Israeli longevity

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Compulsory military service added three years to the life expectancy of Israeli men, according to a new study.

The study released Tuesday by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Jerusalem compared data from 130 countries.

After controlling for variables that typically influence longevity, the study concluded that only 80 percent of the variance in life expectancy between Israel and the other countries could be explained by factors such as wealth, health care expenditures, educational levels and others. When the researchers controlled for the rate of military spending and length of service among the countries, the gap between Israel and the others shrank nearly to zero.

“This variable alone (the interaction between military spending as a percent of GDP and length of military service) essentially explains Israeli men’s longevity over and above the effect of other variables that were tested,” the study found. “In other words, if Israel did not have the compulsory military service and spending that it currently has, male life expectancy in Israel would probably be much lower.”

In 2013, Israeli men had a projected lifespan of 80.6 years compared to 77.7 among men living in the member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a grouping of mostly European and wealthier nations, the Taub Center reported. The world average life expectancy for men was 68.8.

“Even if the contribution of compulsory service for public health is not the goal of military service, it is important in that it will impact policy decisions in the future,” Alex Weinreb, a Taub Center researcher, said in a statement. “Health can be affected by investment in institutions that have no obvious connection to health, and the Israeli army is a body in unique position to affect public health.”