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Demographic shift: Israeli Jewish fertility rate tops Arab rate

The demographic shift in Israel, marked by an increase in fertility rates among Jews and a decrease among Muslims, continued last year, as the total fertility rate for Jewish women hit a 45-year high.

According to data released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the total fertility rate – that is, the average number of children a woman will have in her life time – for Jewish women in Israel rose in 2018 to 3.17, the highest level since the early 1970s, when the Jewish TFR averaged 3.28. In the 1990s, the Jewish TFR fell to its lowest level, averaging 2.62 both between 1990 to 1994 and 1995 to 1999.

The increase in the Israeli Jewish TFR in 2018 was smaller than in previous years, rising only 0.01 from the 3.16 total fertility rate in 2017. The rise was fueled primarily by an increase in the number of women in older age groups having children, which offset a decline among younger women. While the general fertility rate – the number of women per 1,000 who gave birth - among teenagers aged 15 to 19 fell from 4.2 to 3.9 and also fell among women in their early 20s from 89.0 to 88.0, every age cohort 25 and up saw an increase.

Jewish women ages 25 to 29 had a general fertility rate of 176.0 in 2018, compared to 174.4 the year before, while women ages 30-34 had a GFR of 201.1, compared to 200.8 in 2017. Christian and Druze women also saw an increase in their total fertility rates, though both remain far below the Jewish rate. Christian women – including both Arab Christians and Christian immigrants who moved to Israel with Jewish relatives – saw their TFR rise from 1.93 in 2017 to 2.06 in 2018. The Druze total fertility rate rose from 2.10 to 2.16.

But birthrates declined for both Muslim women in Israel and women not registered with any religious group, with the latter group’s total fertility rate falling from 1.58 to 1.54. Muslim women still had the highest total fertility rate in 2018 at 3.20, despite falling from 3.37 the year before. Among Israeli Arabs as a whole, however, the TFR fell in 2018 to 3.04 – below the Jewish TFR of 3.17. The 3.20 TFR marks the lowest level recorded among Muslim Arab women in Israel, who fifty years ago had on average six more children than Jewish women (TFR 9.22 vs 3.3.6).

In raw numbers, the number of children born to Jewish mothers increased in 2018 to 135,809, or 73.7% of the 184,370 total live births in Israel. In 2017, Jewish mothers gave birth to 134,630 children, or 73.3% of the total number of live births. In 2010, Jewish women accounted for 72.6% of all live births, with 120,673 children born. In 2000, births to Jewish women made up just 67.4% of all live births in Israel, with 91,936 children born to Jewish mothers.

By comparison, the number of births to Arab women (Muslim, Christian, or Druze) fell in 2018 to 43,268, down from 43,782 in 2017. Births to Arab women made up 23.5% of all live births in Israel in 2018, compared to 23.8% in 2017, 24.5% in 2010, and 29.9% in 2000.

Within the Jewish population, families with a father born in the Americas had the highest birthrate, with a total fertility rate of 4.17. Families where the father was born in Israel had the second highest TFR at 3.34, compared to 3.05 for families which had a father born in Asia, 3.03 for families with the father born in Africa, and 3.02 for those where the father was born in Europe.

When broken down by region, the highest total fertility rate in Israel was reported among women living in Judea and Samaria, at 4.89, followed by the Jerusalem district at 3.97, southern Israel at 3.59, the central district at 2.78, northern Israel at 2.68, the Tel Aviv area at 2.63, and the Haifa district last at 2.52.

The rising Israeli Jewish fertility rate has also pulled into near-parity with that of Judea and Samaria, which according to the CIA World Fact Book 2019 had a TFR of 3.2, compared to a TFR of 3.27 in 2017. The Gaza Strip, however, has a significantly higher fertility rate, at 3.97. This also marks a significant decline compared to 2017, when the Gaza TFR was 4.13.

Commenting on the Central Bureau of Statistics report, demographer and former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger said that the numbers disproved the “myth of an Arab demographic time bomb” in Israel. “Demographers of doom who have reverberated Palestinian data without examination, have ignored reality, promoting the myth of an ‘Arab demographic time bomb.’ They have been dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading,” Ettinger wrote in The Ettinger Report.

Citing reports which suggest the Palestinian Authority’s population figures have significantly over-counted the number of Arabs living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, Ettinger claimed that there is a nearly two-thirds majority of Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean if the Gaza Strip is not included.

“Well-documented data – rather than subjective assessments or projections – confirm a 65.5% Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel, benefitting from a tail wind of fertility and migration, in addition to a potential Aliyah (immigration) wave of 500,000 Jews from France, Britain, the former USSR, Germany, Argentina, etc.”

David Rosenberg