Israel’s population will number 18 million by the year 2050, making it the most crowded country in the OECD, with dramatic social and environmental consequences, according to a report published Sunday to mark “Crowded Future: A Look at Israel 2050”, a conference held at Tel Aviv University on Sunday.
The report analyzes the expected effects of population density in Israel in 2050 and proposes a number of ways for the country to prepare itself, including encouraging lower birth rates.
According to the report, written by leading experts in demography, economics, city planning, transportation, environment, water management and health, the State of Israel is an exceptional phenomenon in the global demographic landscape due to an extraordinary combination of high natural growth rate, which characterizes third-world countries, and economic and consumption habits characteristic of first-world countries.
“Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the population has grown tenfold in just six decades. Israel is currently the country with the highest rate of population growth among the developed countries of the Western world and has the third largest population density.” the report states.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel has the highest fertility rates in the developed world (3.1 children ) higher than that of any other developed countries which average about 1.7 kids per woman.
The fertility rate for Jewish women has increased from 2.59 in 1996 while the average rate for Arab woman stood at 3.29 in 2016, down from 4.35 in 1996 and almost 6 in 1980. Fertility rates in the ultra-Orthodox sector stand at around 6.6 after having peaked at 7.5 at the turn of the century.
Conference organizer, professor Alon Tal, a veteran environmental activist, who is chair of the Tel Aviv University Department of Public Policy and co-chairman of “Tzafuf” (crowded) the forum for population, environment, and society, said the government must stop incentivizing large families.
“Public policy should make clear that our country has physical limits, and teaching that you can have a family life also with two children, ” he said.
“The government should work on two parallel methods to overcome the effects of high population density,” Tal told TPS in a phone interview, “adaptation of urban plans and campaigns to reduce the birth rate, especially in the orthodox communities.”
While Israel’s high fertility rate is part of the ethos of the country, Tal warns that if the leadership fails to understand the implications of a high-density population, Israel will head “toward an unsustainable situation of overpopulation, low labor productivity, and poverty. “
“Israel is a pragmatic state and I hope the government will understand time changed. Once it was considered patriotic to have many children, now the number of Jews is back to what it was before the Holocaust, and it would be more patriotic to have two children and not more. Our society has to break the taboo that children are a blessing, and understand that we need to plan our demography.”
According to Tal, the government should focus its campaign on the ultra-Orthodox communities where fertility rates are highest.
“The government should stop giving subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox, both in taxes and child benefits and help women to look for jobs outside the home, ” he said.
Asked if a natural social process, such as growing numbers of working ultra-Orthodox, a more open society thanks to internet … could naturally diminish the fertility rate, Tal predicts that it will take too long.
“Despite the fact that ultra-Orthodox women understand that their children will not have the possibility to have equal opportunities because of the education they receive and the composition of their families, it will take at least 30 years until they will actually diminish the number of the kids…. We don’t have such a long time” he said.
Concluding Tal said that the purpose of the conference is to bring to public attention the effect of high rate population growth
“I hope the fertility rate will be an issue during the next election campaign,” he said.
Written by Mara Vigevani/TPS | Photo by Kobi Richter/TPS