Demographic implosion in Muslim societies, October 26, 2008

Just as the world at large is experiencing an unprecedented collapse of demography, the UN Population Division reports a sharp decline of fertility rates (number of births per woman) in Muslim and Arab countries, excluding Afghanistan and Yemen.


The myth of "doubling population every 20 years" has been shattered against the cliffs of demography. The director-general of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, stated, during a UNESCO conference on "Population: From Explosion to Implosion," that "there is an abrupt slowdown in the rate of growth... also in many countries where women have only limited access to education and employment... There is not the slightest reason to assume that the decline in fertility will miraculously stop just at replacement level (2.1 births per woman)... Before 2000, the young always outnumbered their elders; for some years now it has been the other way around."


THE collapse of fertility rates in Muslim countries is a derivative of modernization and Westernization, rapid urbanization and internal security concerns by dictators fearing the consequences of the widening gap between population growth and economic growth. As a result, the UN Population Division has reduced its 2050 population projections by 25 percent, from 12 billion to 9 billion, possibly shrinking to 7.4 billion.



For instance, the fertility rate in Iran - the flagship of radical Islam - has declined from nine births per woman, 30 years ago, to 1.8 births in 2007. The Muslim religious establishment has also played a key role in decreasing fertility rates in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from eight and seven births per woman 30 years ago, to less than four and less than 2.5 respectively in 2007.

Jordan, which is demographically close to Judea and Samaria, and Syria have demonstrated a diminished fertility rate: from eight, 30 years ago, to less than 3.5 in2007. A substantial dive of fertility rates in Muslim countries - trending toward two births per woman - is documented by the PopulationResourceCenter in Washington, DC.


Demographic precedents suggest only a very slight probability of resurrecting high fertility rates following a sustained period of significant reduction.


The Bennett Zimmerman-led American-Israel Demographic Research Group (AIDRG) has documented a similar demographic trend among the Arab population of Judea and Samaria (currently four births per woman, and trending downward).

The decline in fertility and population growth rates has resulted from escalating emigration (which has characterized the region since 1950), accelerated urbanization (70% rural in 1967 and 60% urban in 2008), the expansion of education infrastructure, especially among women, the entrenchment of career mentality; the increase of median-marriage-age, an all-time high divorce rate, the contraction of teenage pregnancy and the UNRWA/PA-led family planning campaign.


The sharp lowering of fertility rate among "Green Line" (pre-1967 Israel) Arabs, from nine births per woman in 1969 to 3.5 in 2007, has been the outcome of their successful integration into Israel's education, employment, commerce, health, banking, cultural, political and sports infrastructures. The annual number of Arab births stabilized at approximately 39,000 between 1995-2007. The Arab fertility rate converges swiftly toward the Jewish fertility rate (2.8 births per woman).


ON the other hand, Israel's Jewish demography has been non-normative as far as the impact of education and income levels on the level of fertility rates is concerned. The annual number of Jewish births (including among those immigrants from the former USSR who have yet to be recognized as Jews by the rabbinate) rose by 40% between 1995-2007.

The number of Jewish births has increased from 69% of total births in 1995 to 74% in 2006 and 75% in 2007. The secular sector - and particularly the immigrants from the former Soviet Union - has been by and large responsible for such an impressive rise. The Jewish demographic tailwind is bolstered by the (highly under-utilized) potential of immigration - which has increased due to the global economic collapse - from the former USSR, the US, West Europe, Latin America, South Africa, etc.

Recent demographic trends bode well for the solid, long-term Jewish majority of 67% within the "Green Line" and in Judea and Samaria, compared with a 33% and 8% Jewish minority in 1947 and 1900 respectively between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.


Israel's policy-makers and public opinion-molders should base their assessments on thoroughly-documented demographic optimism and not on baseless demographic fatalism, in order to avoid erroneous assumptions, which yield erroneous and self-destructive policy decisions.