In Israel, Jewish and Muslim Birthrates Are Converging

August 24, 2022 | Economist
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Those who would push Jerusalem to make precipitous territorial concessions often point to projections that Jews will otherwise become a minority in Israel’s borders. But, as the Economist reports, the demographic realities suggest something else. (Free registration required.)

Yasir Arafat, who led the Palestinians for three-and-a-half decades, described “the womb of the Arab woman” as his “strongest weapon.” . . . At the time there was indeed a wide demographic gap. In Israel itself Arab women were having almost twice as many babies on average as Jewish women. But in the past few decades this gap has disappeared, as the birthrate of Israeli Arabs has fallen while that of Israeli Jews has risen.

In this, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have followed a path trodden by women elsewhere. Across the OECD, a club mostly of rich countries, the average fertility rate has fallen from almost three in 1970 to 1.6, well below the rate of about 2.1 needed to keep a population from shrinking.

This makes the rising birthrate of Jewish Israelis all the more surprising. Between 1960 and 1990 their fertility declined from 3.4 to 2.6, suggesting they were in step with their sisters elsewhere. But then they began to buck the trend, driving the birthrate back up to its current level of 3.1.

Some of this trend can be attributed to the high birthrates of Israel’s ḥaredi population. But the Jewish state’s demographic miracle is also in part due to the fertility rates of secular families, which are significantly higher than those in economically similar countries:

One . . . explanation may be that Israeli grandparents tend to help out more than their peers in many other rich countries. Since Israel is small and densely populated, grandma is never far away. In one survey 83 percent of secular Jewish mothers aged twenty-five to thirty-nine said they were supported by their child’s grandparents, whereas only 30 percent of German mothers said the same. In Israel the traditional family structure is still strong. In France and Britain more than half of babies are born out of wedlock. In Israel it is under 10 percent.

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