Shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, at the time of the first census in 1948, the Israeli population was estimated at 873,000 people. Largely due to the large influx of immigrants in the years shortly thereafter, by the end of the first decade of statehood the population had increased to slightly more than 2 million. The pace of growth, though somewhat moderated, remained high in the next decades: the number of inhabitants increased to 2.8 million at the end of the second decade, to 3.7 million at the end of the third decade, and to 4.5 million and the end of the fourth decade in 1988. The large wave of Soviet immigrants contributed to the fast increase in the next decade, and by 1998 there were some six million people living in Israel. This number rose to 7.4 million in 2008 and to 8.3 million at the beginning of 2015.
Upon statehood (1948) Jews constituted 82 percent of the total Israeli population, but their share increased to 89 percent in 1958. Since then, there has been a gradual decline in the proportion of Jews in varying rates from one decade to another: from 86 percent in 1968 to 82 percent in 1988, and down to 75 percent at the beginning of 2015. Notably, the Israeli population includes people with “no religion.” Often, they are the kin of Jewish immigrants or other people, mainly from the FSU, who immigrated under the Law of Return. This group is comprised of some 350,000 people, or about 4 percent of Israel’s total population. As suggested earlier (section 2), these people experienced a “sociological conversion” and it is likely that they identify with the majority Jewish population. Hence, Jews together with people who lack a religion but are of some Jewish affinity, today constitutes 80 percent of the total Israeli population. In other words, in the seven decades since the establishment of Israel, and despite some fluctuations, the proportion of “Jews” in their widest definition, has remained fairly stable.
The increase in the number of Jews is attributable to two main factors: positive natural increase and migration balance. The former factor drove some 60 percent of the total growth, and the second factor the remaining 40 percent. The equilibrium between these two components has changed over time: migration balance was the major contributor to Jewish population growth especially since the foundation of the state through the early 1960s, and once again during the first half of the 1990s; in other periods it was natural increase that played a pivotal role in the growth of the Israeli Jewish population. Changes in the number of non-Jews are solely the result of natural increase.
Indeed, the rhythm of growth of the Jewish population is slower than that of the non-Jewish population. Between 2010 and 2015, the Jewish population increased by seven percent while the non-Jewish population increased by nine percent. Accordingly, the proportion of Jews among the total Israeli population diminished somewhat. However, this is a very small change (of half a percent over the five-year 2010-2015 quantile). A major factor that explains the small difference between the population growth of Jews and non-Jews is the recent convergence of fertility levels at around three children. This similarity is the result of different processes among the two populations: increase in the average number of children per Jewish women from 2.8 in 2007 to as high as 3.05 in 2013 (largely due to the increase in the share of ultra-Orthodox women in the Jewish population), and a decline in the average number of children of non-Jewish women including among Muslim women (from 3.9 to 3.35) or among Druze (from 2.5 to 2.2). Because the non-Jewish population is young, even with low levels of fertility it will increase more rapidly than their Jewish counterparts.
Overall, 2014 was characterized by a fertility increase among Jewish women; and, as mentioned earlier, by the increase of new immigrants.