The Happy Arab News Service

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Demographic History of Israel

Total Fertility Rates (1970-2007)

Source: Central Bureau of Statistics

A graph is attached to provide a historic perspective on the demographic situation of Israel. The graph does not really need explanations and, so, I will make only a few comments on its most prominent features.

The first thing that calls attention in the graph is the relative stability of Jewish fertility rate over many years. I believe the stability is misleading and conceals a very turbulent demographic history. Probably a separate graph is required to chart separately Ashkenazi, Sepharadi and ultra orthodox fertilities to show the continuously shifting underlying reality behind this stability.

Christian Arab fertility can be seen lingering for a quite a while under the Jewish rate until it finally tunnels South searching for Europe. It should be mentioned however that all groups in the graph are still well above Western averages. The Holy Land is not populated by demographic pushovers.

Now the truly interesting dynamics can be seen in the Druze and Muslim Arab sectors and this is where the mystery starts. By 1980 fertility rates of the two converged, but shortly after 1985 the Muslim Arab rate has stabilized and remained largely unchanged all the way until 2000. I was not digging professional literature for explanations, but from those bits I encountered on the Internet there is no consensus as to why this happened. What also seems to be seen clearly in the graph is the effect of 1997 when child subsidies were both increased and extended to all sectors including Muslim Arabs and Jewish ultra orthodox. There was a certain uptick in the Muslim Arab fertility immediately after 1997, but it was not particularly dramatic and quickly ran out of steam.

Meanwhile, demographic transition continued in the Druze sector uninterrupted and a few years ago the parity was achieved with the Jewish sector in fertility rates. The fertility rate seems poised to converge with the Christian Arab sector within the next few years digging a hole for the birth rate to collapse into in the near future.

To the best of my knowledge, no consensus exists either as to why the Muslim Arab fertility resumed declining around 2000. The drastic overhaul of child subsidies and other social payments under Netanyahu has certainly contributed to this, but the decline was plainly present a few years before Netanyahu's reforms went into effect. There is a certain difference between the Druze and Muslim Arabs - the former serve in the army and in general are better integrated into Israeli society. This may explain the divergence between the two sectors that happened after 1985. In this sense the later drop in the Muslim Arab fertility can be also seen as the nature resuming its course.

Another factor to consider is this. During the Oslo process the government has significantly increased funds for education in the Arab sector effectively ending what was frequently claimed to be an outright discrimination. The state was with one hand hampering demographic transition in the Muslim Arab sector through mismanagement of child subsidies and other welfare, but with the other hand it may have been preparing the ground for the transition's next stage. In fact, in my view the impact of child subsidies is overrated. While without doubt a factor, child subsidies should be less crucial than say education and integration.

The CBS per district tables generally indicate that during the last ten years Jewish demographic indicators across Israel largely remained stable or were slightly edging up amidst steadily declining Arab fertility. In Jerusalem the demographic onslaught of the ultras has already created parity in fertility rates and, given the trend of the recent years, the demographic advantage in the city and the area around may well soon shift to the Jewish sector. In this sense Jerusalem stands apart from the rest of the country. Another exception is the South, where the disparity between Jewish and Muslim Arab fertilities is still tremendous. In both cases two minorities unrepresented on the graph should be held accountable for these anomalies - the Jewish ultra orthodox and Bedouins.

Those who have patience can go to and dig the Central Statistics Bureau CBS site for more data on these two. However, the per district tables should give one a pretty good idea of the demographic situation of the Bedouin sector, given that Muslim Arabs in the South should be predominantly Bedouins. In 2007 the Muslim Arab TFR in the South was running at 7.13, which is pretty high even for Africa. It was 7.25 in 2006. To compare, the TFR was about 10 in 2000. The rate of decline may be slowing down. The TFR lost 7.3% between 2003 and 2004, 4.6% between 2005 and 2006 and only 1.6% between 2006 and 2007. For comparison the Jewish TFR in the South has remained virtually unchanged throughout that period at 2.6-2.5, very high for any developed nation but nothing compared to the Arab neighbors.

There is less information readily available on the ultra orthodox but some data released by the CBS in 2008 suggests that fertility and birth rates in the ultra orthodox sector have also sharply declined in the last few years. Nevertheless, even when compared to the Bedouins, the ultras still remain the ultimate demographic supermachine.

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Correspondent

The total fertility rate in the country's ultra-Orthodox community has dropped sharply in the past several years, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

The fertility rate in the Haredi community of Beitar Illit dropped from 8.9 children per woman in 2001 to 7.7 children in 2006, a decrease of 13.5 percent. In Modi'in Illit, another ultra-Orthodox community, the total fertility rate fell from 9 to 8 in the same period.

Even after the drop, these communities still have the highest fertility rates in Israel.

Source: Haaretz


This post is an update to The True Convergence. If you have any comments, leave them there.

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