Article Library / 2015

2014-2015 Annual Assessment

While the geopolitics dimension routinely sees most volatility from year to year, demography is much more stable. As before, we did not form an expert panel on demographics. And yet, those who follow the other dimensions are acutely aware of the importance demography holds for how a number of outcomes will be resolved in coming years. This slow pace of change makes the job of demographic policy analysis more subtle and challenging, but does not reduce its importance compared to other dimensions of change.

This makes a retrospective view valuable. 2015 marks 70 years since the end of WWII. Over this period the world Jewish population increased from 11 million to 14.2 million (or an addition of approximately one-third). Moreover, in each of the last seven decades there has been a rise in the number of Jews, with an especially salient increase in the last decade (between 2005 and 2015). These estimates of the Jewish population combine the objective definition of halachic criteria in Israel and subjective self-definition of group belonging for Diaspora Jewry. One may include two more sub-groups with current orientation to the Jewish people: immigrants to Israel (mainly from the FSU) and their offspring who met the criteria of the Law of Return, but do not define themselves according to any religion and are not halachic Jews. This group comprises some 350,000 people. Another group, mostly living in the United States, comprises people who regard themselves as “partially Jewish.” The overwhelming majority of them are offspring of mixed parentage. This group is composed of approximately one million people. It is likely that the “partially Jewish” can be found in other Diaspora countries as well. Adding these groups to the Jewish population increases the size of the world Jewish population to some 16 million. This estimate is very close to the number of Jews in the world on the eve of WWII.

Along with the growth in the number of Jews in the world, their geographic dispersion has changed dramatically. In 1945 only 5 percent of world Jewry resided in Palestine/Israel, but today it is home to 43 percent of the total global Jewish population (of 14.2 million). At the same time, Jewish communities in countries in an earlier stage of modernization – in Asia and North Africa – have been emptied. With the more recent influxes from the FSU, Jews have converged in a small number of democratic, economically advanced, and culturally pluralistic countries. The presence of Jews in Diaspora countries is also notable because they are heavily concentrated in a few major cities and metropolitan areas. In the United States, the number of Jews is stable, and, presumably, somewhat increased (from 5 million in 1957, to 5.7 million today). This is a result of contradictory processes of low fertility compensated by positive international migration. Likewise, the average number of children born to Jewish women who are also raised Jewish increased. Although the drift toward intermarriage continues, more and more mixed marriages are transmitting Jewish identity to a growing number of Americans. For the first time in memory, a majority of the children of intermarried parents in the 18-30 age bracket identify as Jewish (59 percent). The general American population increased more rapidly, which has diminished the proportion of Jews from 2.8 percent in 1957, to only 1.8 percent today. In Israel, since the foundation of the state, the equilibrium between Jews and non-Jews (the former also includes people of “no religion”) has remained fairly stable at 80 and 20 percent respectively. Major recent demographic developments in Israel include the near convergence of Jewish and non-Jewish fertility (around three children); and an increase in Jewish immigration (mainly from France and Ukraine). The overall trend of world Jewish demography is in a direction of growth.

These trends are not noteworthy compared to global demographic changes. But from a Jewish people policy perspective, the continued observation of these dynamics in the past year causes us to move the gauge for this dimension in a positive direction.

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