Total Fertility Trends in Israel:Total Fertility Trends in Israel: How did the Demographic Time Bomb become a Demographic Miracle? Summary Researchers and policy makers periodically air the claim that the Arab population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean is growing at a rate double to that of the Jewish population, a fact that will, in the near future, lead to the negation of the Jewish majority. This concern, known as the “demographic time bomb”, stands at the heart of a dispute among different demographists and arouses an intense argument in Israeli academic and public discourse. The objective of this paper is to construct an accurate picture of the demographic reality in Israel and to assess the true dimensions of the demographic threat.As is well known, two mechanisms determine the size of a population: life expectancy at different ages and the rate of fertility. In this paper, we examined the trend of the total fertility rate among population groups living in Israel according to nationality, religion and different settlement regions over a range of periods. Furthermore, we compared this trend with the development of the total worldwide fertility rate and of the populations of different countries in the Middle East. An analysis of the data gathered revealed both trends of growth among the Jewish and Arab populations during the last 60 years and expectations for the future. A summary of the main findings is presented below:
• At the beginning of the 21st century, a turnaround was registered in the fertility level of the Jewish population: Total Jewish fertility had previously declined for 45 years, from the beginning of the 1960s until the end of the century. Until 1995, the total fertility rate among Jews in Israel was the lowest of all Middle Eastern countries and significantly lower than the total fertility rate among the Arab population living in Israel. However, the total Jewish fertility rate began to rise rapidly from 2001, reaching 3.16 children per woman in 2016. This figure was higher than the total fertility rate in 10 of the 15 Middle Eastern countries surveyed and higher than the total fertility rate of the Arab population in Israel, Judea and Samaria, and Gaza. In only 4 countries in the Middle East – Iraq (4.06), Yemen (3.77), Egypt (3.30), Jordan (3.18) and in the Gaza Strip (3.91 or 4.30 depending on the estimation of the US Census Bureau) – was the total Arab fertility rate higher than that of the Jews in Israel.
• The last decade’s demographic figures for the population of Israel indicate a continued increase in total fertility among Jews and a constant decline among the Arabs, in all Israel’s administrative districts. In contrast to the trend of a sharp increase in Jewish fertility in Israel, during the last 56 months, the total fertility of Israel’s Arab population declined by 61.1%, from 7.99 children per woman in 1960 to 3.11 in 2016. Among Sabras (native born Israelis), who constitute 76.3% of the country’s total Jewish population, the total fertility is even higher – 3.25 children per woman. An examination of the demographic figures of Israel’s population according to ethnic origin and religion reveals that in 2016, the difference between total fertility of Israeli Muslims and that of the Sabras had narrowed to only 0.04 children.
• The turnaround in total fertility among Jews and Arabs occurred as a result of changes in the trends of births among these two populations. In only the last 16 years, the number of births among Jews increased by 47.2% compared to an increase of just 7.5% among Arabs. If in 2001, 2.18 Jewish babies were born for every Arab baby, in 2017 this figure had increased to 3.1 Jewish babies, a difference of 42.2%.• Until 2005, total Jewish fertility was the lowest in all of Israel’s administrative districts. In 2016 however, total Arab fertility was higher than that of the Jewish population only in the Central and Southern Districts. Furthermore, if in 2005, the total Arab fertility in the Central District was higher by 2.29 children per woman, in 2016 the difference was only 0.28 children per woman.
• The difference between the total fertility rate among the Jewish and Arab populations, has narrowed in the last 18 years from 7.28 children per woman in 1998 to 2.25 children per woman in 2016. If the current 17-year declining trend in total fertility among the Arab population in the Southern District continues, it may draw level with that of the Jewish population by the mid-2020s.
• The total fertility rate of the 399,300 Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria in 2016 stood at 4.98 children per woman and was only 0.47 lower than that of the 250,800 Arbs living on the Southern District.
• Estimates of the US Census Bureau (USCB) even indicate a constant trend of decline in total fertility among the Arabs of the Palestinian Authority. Until mid-2017, the USCB estimate for 2016 indicated a total fertility rate of 2.71 children per woman among the Arab population of Judea and Samaria and 3.91 children per woman among Gazan Arabs. In an updated estimate issued in mid-2017, the USCB amended the 2016 figures to 3.33 children per woman for Judea and Samaria and 4.30 for the Gaza Strip. However, even according to this estimate, the total fertility among the Arab population in Judea and Samaria declined by 58.1% within 40 years from a peak of 7.95 children per woman in 1976. Furthermore, the total fertility rate among the Arab population in Gaza declined by 47.1% in only 25 years, from 8.13 children per woman in 1991. This trend indicates that the decline in total fertility among the Arabs of Judea, Samaria and Gaza was sharper than that registered among Israel’s Arab population.
• According to the new USCB estimates, the total fertility among the Arab population of Judea and Samaria is expected to decline to 3.14 children per woman in 2019 and to 2.14 in 2050. According to the same study, the total fertility rate in the Gaza Strip will reach 3.14 children per woman in 2025 and 2.12 in the year 2050.
In summary, not only do the fertility figures presented above not support the concern of a “demographic time bomb”, they in reality testify to a demographic turnaround in favor of the Jewish population resulting from an increase in the total fertility rate. This increase is expected to continue into the future, even if at a slower rate.
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