Israeli population growth slowing as fertility rates continue to fall – report

Group comprising mainly immigrants from ex-Soviet Union whom Israel does not regard as Jews have highest employment rate, contributed nearly 20% to population growth last year

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Illustrative photo of a newborn baby girl holding her mother's finger, Jerusalem, December 30, 2020. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a newborn baby girl holding her mother's finger, Jerusalem, December 30, 2020. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Israel’s population growth, while still relatively high for a developed country, is slowing down as fertility rates continue to fall across all religious groups, according to a report published Monday.

At the end of last year, the population stood at 9.84 million, having grown by 1.86 percent in a year, the report, from the Jerusalem-based Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, said.

This growth rate was lower than the average for the past decade, even though the mortality rate last year was at a record low until the end of September, and immigration had been above normal.

Between 2018 and 2022, the average fertility rate for Jews dropped from 3.17 to 3.03 children per woman, according to the Taub Center’s demography expert, Prof. Alex Weinreb. Among Muslim and Christian women, the decline was greater — from 3.20 to 2.91 among Muslims, and from 2.06 to 1.68 among Christians. Among Druze women, the decrease was from 2.16 to 1.85.

During the first nine months of 2023, the fertility rate among Jewish women was 3.6% lower than during the same period in 2022, while that of Arab women was 3.1% lower, the report said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 boosted immigration to Israel, which, during the decade before, had accounted for around 20% of population growth annually.

During 2022, that figure rose to 39%, with the same level continuing into the first half of 2023.

Newborn babies at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, December 31, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

Weinreb noted that a group described by the Central Bureau of Statistics as “not classified by religion” and comprising mainly immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were not accepted as Jews by the country’s religious authorities, was playing an increasingly significant role in Israel’s demographic changes.

In 2009, this group accounted for around 3% of Israel’s annual growth, increasing to 6% by 2012, 8% by 2015, 13% by 2019, and close to 20% by 2023.

Data from the Labor Force Survey showed that this group enjoyed the highest employment rate and the longest work hours of any group in Israel — even exceeding those of secular Jews.

“In other words, this group of migrants appears to be the exact type of productive population that many promoters of migration in Europe endorse and seek to encourage,” Weinreb wrote. “If so, Israel has lucked out economically.”

The report noted consistent growth in fertility treatments in Israel, where 26 Health Ministry-approved IVF (in vitro fertilization) clinics carried out 50,680 treatment cycles in 2020. In 2019, 5% of all live births were IVF-assisted.

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