Jewish and Arab Fertility Rates Equal for the First Time in Israeli History

Israeli hospital
Cribs for newborn babies at a hospital nursery, Jerusalem, Israel, September 10, 2015. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

The fertility rate among Jewish women matches that of Arab women for the first time in Israel's history, figures released Tuesday show.

The average number of children born to Jewish women was 3.13 in 2015, the same as their Arab counterparts, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. The stats represent a fall in the Arab fertility rate in Israel and an increase in the rate among Jews.

In 2000, the Jewish fertility rate was 2.6 children per woman while the Arab rate was 4.3 children per woman.

There are longstanding fears among right-wing sections of Israeli society that the higher Arab birth rate could leave Jews outnumbered by an Arab majority in the country. Some Israelis, according to commentators, have expressed concerns about the country losing its "Jewish character."

Arabs represent around 20 percent of Israel's total population. In 2015, of the country's population of 2.8 million children, two million (71.3 percent) were Jewish, 718,000 (25.7 percent) were Arab and 84,000 (3 percent) were grouped as "others."

The areas with the highest numbers of children per household were the cities of Beit Shemesh (3.8), Bnei Brak (3.4) and Jerusalem (3), which all have large representations of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who give birth to more children than the national average.

Yasser Arafat once referred to the womb of the Palestinian woman as his "strongest weapon." There has been a further decline in the fertility rate of Palestinian women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In 2014, it was 3.7 in the West Bank (down from 5.6 in 1997) and 4.5 in the Gaza Strip (down from 6.9 in 1997), according to official Palestinian statistics.

Israel now has the highest fertility rate of the developed countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Times of Israel reported. As of 2013, it also had the second highest youth population, after Mexico. This baby boom bucks the usual trend of fertility declining in nations as they grow wealthier.