Israel’s birth rate remains highest in OECD by far, at 2.9 children per woman

Israel is forum’s only member state reproducing above replacement rate; report cites high Haredi rate, but even among secular population it is higher than in any other OECD country

A woman pushes a stroller as she walks past a placard indicating the location where a new cultural complex will be built, in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, May 1, 2019. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
A woman pushes a stroller as she walks past a placard indicating the location where a new cultural complex will be built, in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, May 1, 2019. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

Israel’s birth rate remains the highest among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to an OECD report released on Thursday, as birth rates decline across the developed world.

The five member states with the highest birth rates have experienced the sharpest decline, the report said, but noted that “Israel breaks this trend as women among the [ultra-Orthodox] population group often have a large number of children.”

Israel’s total fertility rate sits at 2.9 children per woman, followed by Mexico and France with 1.8 children per woman and almost twice the OECD average of 1.5, the report said.

In 2020, the total fertility rate among ultra-Orthodox women in Israel was 6.6, while the rate among Arab women was 3.0, and among secular women, it was 2.0—  still well above the OECD average— according to a report from the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research.

Birth rates have dropped sharply in some of the world’s richest states and are likely to stay low as economic worries leave people weighing the costs of having children, the report said.

“This decline will change the face of societies, communities and families, and potentially have large effects on economic growth and prosperity,” it noted.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women push their baby strollers as they walk in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, on July 4, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Many in OECD member countries are now choosing to have children later in life or not at all. “Both young men and women increasingly find meaning in life outside of parenthood,” the report added.

The total fertility rate dropped to 1.5 children per woman in 2022 from 3.3 in 1960 on average across OECD countries, the report said, using a unit measuring the average number of children born per woman over a lifetime.

Meanwhile, the average age of women giving birth has risen from 28.6 in 2000 to 30.9 in 2022, the report found. In Israel, the average age is just a hair below the average, but has risen about three years since 1980.

“While OECD countries are using a range of policy options to support families, the economic cost and long-term financial uncertainty of having children continue to significantly influence people’s decision to become parents,” Stefano Scarpetta, director of the OECD’s Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Directorate, said in a conference call.

Particularly low total fertility rates were measured in South Korea, at 0.7, and in Italy and Spain, each with 1.2 children per woman. The highest were in Israel at 2.9, followed by Mexico and France, each with 1.8.

When comparing women born in 1935 and in 1975, the percentage of ones without a child doubled in Estonia, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Spain, according to the OECD data.

“Childlessness is definitely going up almost everywhere,” said Tomas Sobotka, researcher at the Vienna Institute of Demography.

The pressure of being good parents, which implies dedicating time to raising children, was also prompting young people to postpone or avoid having families, the Paris-based organization said.

“Qualitative evidence from Europe finds that one important reason why some women in their early thirties choose to postpone having children is that they do not believe that they can live up to the ideal of motherhood,” it added.

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