Childbearing decline in the Arab community in Israel


Dr.. Ahmed Hlehel, Ph.D. in population sciences (demography) from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Senior Director of the Demography and Population Department at the Central Bureau of Statistics. Responsible for the official population and health statistics and for the systematic planning of the population census. Examines demographic changes in the Arab family.


Between 2000 and 2018, the total fertility rate decreased

Arab women in Israel significantly from 4.37 to 3.44 children on average per woman. The few studies that examined this decline either focused on the effect of the reduction in child allowances in 2003, or contented themselves with a very general description of the decline. The aim of this article is to enrich the scarce information related to the characteristics of childbearing decline and try to explain it through the social and economic changes that Arab society went through during that period. To do this, I used two sources of information: birth data recorded in the population registry to calculate the total fertility rate;

Over the years, according to subgroups within the Arab society, and data from the social survey conducted by the Central Statistical Department to calculate the ideal number of children in the family (demand for children), social and economic changes and their impact on the demand for children. I examined three major changes: the status of women, which is reflected in the degree to which women participate in the public sphere; the extent to which the Internet is used for the purposes of obtaining information and using social networks; economic status and quality of life.

The decrease in chronological reproductive rates was universal and was observed in all groups tested. The improvement in the status of women, as measured by their increased participation in the public sphere (education, participation in the labor market, and driving), contributed to the decrease in childbearing, although the demand for children did not change. There was also a significant decrease in the demand for children among women who are not present in the public sphere, to the extent that the gap between them and women present in the public sphere has disappeared. Perhaps one of the explanations for the disappearance of the gap is the information revolution and the solutions of electronic social networks in place of actual social networks. As it seems, the combination of the development of social networks and the improvement of the economic situation and the quality of life has led to an increase in the consumption of modern products at the expense of the desired number of children.

This article contributes to the knowledge of the relationship between the use of the Internet for information and social networks and the decline in fertility rates, especially when combined with the transition to sweeping education.

The Introduction

Between 2000 and 2018, birth rates in the Arab community in Israel decreased significantly from an average of 4.37 to 3.44 children per woman. Arab society in Israel is heterogeneous and consists of different groups divided according to religion, level of religiosity, and geographic-ethnic distribution. Despite group differences in birth rates, declines were observed in all of them. To the best of my knowledge, there are no studies that have examined the characteristics of this decline, other than studies that examined the effect of the reduction in child allowances in 2003 on birth rates. The aim of this article is to enrich the scarce information related to the characteristics of the decline in birth rates in Arab society, as well as to enrich information dealing with the social and economic changes that occurred in parallel and their possible impact on the decline in fertility.

The article is divided into six parts. In the first part, I will present a historical overview of changes in the level of childbearing in Arab society since the establishment of the state until the present day. I will present data showing changes over time, and I will show that the decline in fertility in recent times is reflected in all groups that make up Arab society, and I will conclude with a brief presentation of the demographic transition from high fertility to low fertility in the Arab and Islamic countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Second, I will argue that the decline in the chronological fertility rates presented in the first part is supported by a change in attitudes in Arab society towards the demand for children (the ideal number of desired children in a family). I will present data from the 2009 and 2018 Social Survey on the desired number of boys in each family according to the selected demographic and socio-economic characteristics. The data indicate that a decrease in the demand for children was observed in each of the selected characteristics, reinforcing the claim that the decrease in childbearing is a general phenomenon. In the third part I will discuss the significant reduction in the child allowance in 2003 and its small effect on the decline in childbearing. In the fourth part, I will discuss the change in the status of Arab women, which is measured by the extent of their participation in the public sphere through obtaining education, work and a driver’s license, and the relationship of this change in status to the decline in birth rates. I will broaden the discussion on declining childbearing while distinguishing between women in the public sphere and those outside it. In Part Five I will discuss the universality of the Internet for information seeking and participation in virtual social networks and its effect on change in the demand for boys, with a discussion of the known mechanisms of influence of traditional social networks. In the sixth part, I will discuss the change in the priorities of the Arab family, which is reflected in the decrease in the demand for children due to the increase in the demand for quality of life, and the relationship between this change and the improvement of the economic situation. I will conclude the article with a summary and more in-depth discussion of the results.

Browse the full paper