January 15, 2021
By 2065, Israel will be most crowded nation on earth - good news
By Barbara Sofer
I’m one of those optimists who see our national birthrate as an expression of positive values, willingness to take on responsibility and confidence.
I sit down to read the recent Gregorian New Year’s supplement of the influential economic magazine TheMarker. We’re all interested in economic trends, and 2020 was an unpredictably grim year. The lead article headline looks particularly interesting: “Turning Point: Israel’s Big Population Challenge.”
Turning point? No, this isn’t about the Jewish population being outnumbered. Nor is it about the many challenges within Israeli society. It isn’t even about the expected increase in the number of Orthodox children and its impact on the economy (TheMarker is published by Haaretz).
What we do need to worry about going into 2021, according to this article, is having too many children and grandchildren. Israel, it says, will sink under our “surplus birthrate.”
I’m glad to be sitting. I’m overwhelmed by a wave of nausea and anger.
I admit that I get queasy when anyone writes about too many Israelis, especially children. The vicissitudes of our national history are always on my mind. I’m one of those optimists who see our national birthrate as an expression of positive values, willingness to take on responsibility and confidence. The author’s bottom line: we need an economic policy to slow the birthrate rather than boost it. (According to the Internet, the author is a parent of four children.)
The subhead predicts that by 2065, “Israel is slated” to be the most crowded nation on earth, with the exception of Bangladesh. The author asks, “Can Israel continue to grow like Nigeria while maintaining a standard of living like Holland?”
Israel’s population is indeed growing 2% a year, four times the average of just 0.5% in other developed countries.
Let me ask, dear reader, is this the good news or the bad news?
In the aforementioned Holland, for instance, demographers are celebrating a 0.24% birthrate increased to 1.668 births per woman in 2019. The fertility rate for Nigeria in 2020 was 5.28 births per woman, a slight decrease. The literacy rate for Nigerian women is 52.7%.
Why is this relevant? Because, according to the World Bank, “a negative correlation is most clearly seen between different levels of female education and total fertility rate in a population.” In other words, the more schooling a woman has, the fewer children she is likely to bear.
This is true in most countries, but it’s not true overall in Israel, where women’s matriculation in higher education has grown in addition to our fertility, outstripping the number of men who go on to university. We – Jewish, Christian, Muslim women all together – have more years of formal education than the OECD average.
And according to the nonpartisan Taub Institute, “Israel’s fertility is not only exceptional because it is high. It is exceptional because strong pronatalist norms cut across all educational classes and levels of religiosity, and because fertility has been increasing alongside increasing age at first birth and education – at least in the Jewish population. From an international perspective, these are atypical patterns.”
And what’s driving this increase? Not the large haredi and Arab families, but so-called secular and traditional families. Middle-class families want a fourth child. Children of Russian immigrants who grew up with small families want more children.
Not surprisingly, the larger families in the religious Jewish and Muslim sectors do get special attention in the year’s end article as examples of what’s supposedly wrong with large families.
They have indeed been hot spots of the coronavirus, but so are the less affluent areas in most countries. You don’t see major newspapers in the United States suggesting that congested inner-city residents who have high rates of COVID-19 should have smaller families. Journalists would be accused of racism.
A well-known authority is quoted to support the position that we should cut down family size. He, a parent of three, recommends that if Israel’s natural growth would be decreased from its current level of 2% a year to the average rate of the developed countries of 0.5%, the GDP would double by 2050.
Would he like us to be like Singapore, where the government once wanted to cut down the country’s birthrate and blocked school admissions for any more than two children per family? Today, Singapore, which has a 1.5 per woman fertility rate, is trying hard, but failing, to go back up. Imagine an article titled “Singapore’s Big Population Challenge.”
Says former ambassador Yoram Ettinger, who has been closely following demographic trends for decades, “Contrary to all other Western democracies, Israel features a rise in fertility simultaneously with a rise in economic and educational achievements. Israel’s fertility rate has played a major role in bolstering the country’s national security, technology and economy.”
OF COURSE, the expected growth in population demands solutions in housing, schools, health services and recreational facilities. Isn’t that why we have all those government ministries?
The author points out that beach areas on the shores of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) sometimes need to be closed when too many vacationers arrive. This year, when we have to reserve ahead at parks and outdoor programs, that problem has dissipated. True, there is a decrease in last-minute spontaneity, but an increase in resource management and pleasure.
The supplement of TheMarker features “The New Suburban Dream” with photos of spacious villas, some with private swimming pools, taking over the Haifa coast. The government should be reserving these prime coastal areas for parks and beaches. The Israeli experience proves that we don’t have to live in big villas to bring up healthy, responsible, creative children.
We must use our experience in greening, water desalinization, food production and hi-tech to make our country an even better place for our children and grandchildren—may they increase and prosper. They’re not only our greatest economic asset, they are our greatest joy.