Tuesday, 27 October 2020
The Decline of Jewish Population

by Michael Curtis

It is a truth, though not universally acknowledged, that the world’s population growth is expected to decline and to stop growing by the end of this century. Between 1950 and 2020 that population grew between 1% and 2% each year, the number increasing from 2.5 billion to 7.7 billion. The number is expected to peak in 2064 at 9.7 billion, and decline to 8.8 billion by 2100, depending on the extent of infectious diseases, famine, war, longevity, and especially low birth rates. The global fertility rate is projected by 2070 to fall below the replacement rate, 2.1 births per woman, the level needed to maintain the size of a population. The median age of the world population is expected to increase from 24 in 1950 and 31 in 2020 to 42 in 2100. The number of those over 80 will increase from 146 million in 2020 to 881 million. By 2073, there will be more people aged 65 and older than under 15, the first time this has happened.

The validity of these projections, of course, depends on the impact of the pandemic Covid-19 on human and social behavior. No one fully understands the complexity of Covid-19. We are in midst of trying to understand how viruses and humans evolve, and attempting to assess the evolutionary conflict between parasites and hosts, and whether quarantine can make people more susceptible to other maladies because of lack of microbial exposure. Nevertheless, it is clear that the virus and the consequent need for isolation and distance has affected personal and family lives, human relationships, work lives, and traditional gender roles, and may alter human behavior with mood disorders.

It is also clear that gender inequality is increasing as a result of the virus. Women have lost more jobs than have men because they are more employed in hospitality and service occupations, activities that have lost customers, and have been handicapped because of lockdowns  and school closings, unequal division of additional      household labor, spending more time with household requisites and children, and aiding elderly relatives. The anticipated result of current developments is that birthrates will drop, people will stay single for a longer time,  people will defer marriage and having children.  

To take some countries, estimates predict that by the year 2050 population in Italy will decline from 60.5 to 54 million; in Japan from 126 to 105 million; in Poland  from 37 to 33 million. The U.S. population grew by only 0.48% in 2019, due to fewer births, the aging population and fewer new immigrants because of the decline in jobs in construction and manufacturing.

By coincidence, very important information on population changes is available in a new report published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research written by demographers Sergio Della Pergola and Daniel Staetsky that provides a comprehensive analysis of the changing Jewish demography in Europe. It reveals, startlingly and surprisingly, that the proportion of world Jewry living in Europe today is about one tenth of what it was in the late 19th century, and approximately the same as in 1170 when there was an account of numbers by a Jewish traveler. 

Jews have long been an integral part of European history and culture. Though calculations may differ because of alternative definitions of Jewishness, whether based on religion,  ethnicity, parentage, or culture, the world’s Jewish population living in Europe is at its lowest level, for a thousand years and has been declining. The Jewish presence depends on various factors: the amount of tolerance for Jewish diversity in the traditional culture, the manifestation of antisemitism, verbally and physically, the legal status of Jews, the availability of economic and educational facilities, the recognition of Jews as a distinct religious group, the degree of intermarriage.

By the 19th century world Jewry amounted to about 10 million; 88% lived in Europe. By the start of World War II world Jewry had increased to 16.6 million. Jews at first, up to the 19th century, moved  from West to East Europe, the reversed the direction. The Holocaust murdered 6 million, thus reducing the European Jewish population to 5.11 million, 35% of world Jewry. The number fell to 26% in 1970, and 9% today, European Jewry now number 1.3 million, out of total Jewry of 14. 7million; present figures are France, 449, 000; UK, 295,000; Russia, 155,000; and Germany 118,000. Since the end of the Soviet Union, the countries of the EU were the main place for Jewish residence.

Most of the decrease in the number of Jews took place in eastern Europe, to  2% today. Between 1948 and 1968   620,000 Jews migrated from eastern Europe, over half to Israel. At the same time, 250,000 Jews from north Africa migrated to France, and another 50,000 to  the rest of Europe. Between 1970 and 2020, Europe lost  59% of its Jewish population, mostly from east Europe. After the Six Day War and  then the end of the Soviet Union, about 1.8 million left east Europe, 1 million to Israel, but 120,000 to Germany. The center of European Jewish gravity  shifted from East to West Europe, the main beneficiary was Germany,

Today, 1.3 million in Europe self-identify as Jews, though 2.8 million have at least one Jewish grandparent or is married to someone with at least  one Jewish grandparent. The world population is 6.2 billion: the main estimate is that there are 13-14 million Jews in the  world, including 6.5 million in Israel and  5,7 million in the U.S. Europe has lost  8.5% of its Jewish population since1970. France has 450,000 today, compared to 530,000 in 1970. The UK has seen a decline of 25% since 1970, to the present 295,000. Since  2000, more than 51,000 French Jews moved  to Israel, partly for economic  reasons, but mainly by fears of antisemitism. In Germany, about 40% of the 118,000 Jews are over 65 while only 10% are under 15, and logically its Jewish population will decline and possibly disappear. Jews will also disappear because of intermarriage: in Poland this accounts for 70% of Jews, in Hungary 50%, and 24% in the UK.

In general, the Jewish communities can be characterized as an urban population, one with low fertility with a significant proportion of Jews of child bearing age not married, and over half of Jewish households having only 1 or 2 children.

In contrast, Israel, which at its creation in 1948 had  800,000 citizens has a population of  9.2 million, 0.11% of world population, of whom 74% are Jewish and 1.8 million are Arabs. It is a highly urban country. Jerusalem has 936,000 inhabitants, Tel Aviv has 460,000, and Haifa  280,000.  

A final word on the U.S. In the late 1940s, Jews were about 4% of the U.S. population; now it is 2,2%, a community of zero population growth, one that is aging and shrinking. Jews began arriving in the Americas with 23 Sephardim who came to New Amsterdam in 1654. At first, more Sephardim arrived, then immigrants came from Germany, and then from east Europe, leading to 4.2 million in 1930. Within the U.S. population changes have occurred, about 44% live in the north east, 17% of the U.S. population, 23% in the west, same as general population, 22% in the south, 38% of total population, and 11% in the  midwest, 21% of the U.S. Numbers of Jews have been declining in big U.S. cities: New York 1.5 million, Los Angeles 519,000, San Francisco 311,000, and Washington, D.C. 292,000.

In spite of problems in the world, most will agree that human progress has occurred, as the world is better fed,  richer, safer, better educated. However, the impact of the Holocaust has been dramatic on the Jewish population and demography in Europe. It is saddening that in the last 50 years Europe has lost 60% of its Jewish population. How many who see a performance of Fiddler on the Roof will appreciate that sadness now that the proportion of Jews in Eastern Europe has declined to 2% of global Jewry?


Posted on 10/27/2020 6:50 AM by Michael Curtis
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