The Israeli Population


The rate of population increase in Israel is exceedingly high, in comparison with Western

countries.This issue of Tzohar is primarily dedicated to a review of the rate and components of

population increase in Israel.Former issues of Tzohar on: Women, Indicators of Mortality and

The Israeli Economy 1950-1998   can be viewed on the Central Bureau of Statistics internet site (


Joseph A. Yahav

The Government Statistician

Major developments





Total Population*












Infants Deaths








Internal Migrants**









Tel Aviv - Yafo








* End of year ** Between localities


Population Increase

1. At the end of 1997, Israel had a population of 5.9 million inhabitants, of whom 4.7 million (80%) were Jewish, 868,000 were Muslim (15%), 126,000 were Christian (2%), and 97,000 (nearly 2%) were Druze. Additionally, 108,000 inhabitants (about 2%) were defined by the Ministry of the Interior as of “religion unclassified.”

2. When the State of Israel was established, in 1948, its population was slightly larger than 800,000. By the next year, the population crossed the one million mark. It took nine additional years to reach two million, twelve years to reach three million, another twelve years to reach four million, nine years to reach five million and about seven years to reach, in September 1998, six million.

3. In 1997, the population increased by 142,000 persons - 2.5%. The various population groups showed the following growth rates: Jews 1.9%, Muslims 3.5%, Christians 2.3% and Druze 2.5%.

4. In 1990 and 1991 - the peak years of mass immigration from the former Soviet Union - the Jewish population grew by 6.2% and 5.0%, respectively. Since 1992, the annual growth rate of the Jewish population has been between 1.9% to 2.4%.

5. Since the mid-1950s, the percent of Jews in the population has declined from 89% to 80% (in 1997).

6. According to an estimate by the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, there are 13 million Jews in the world. The proportion of Israeli Jews in world Jewry has been rising steadily - from 20% in 1970 to 25% in 1980, to 30% in 1990, and to about 36% today.

7. Israel has the highest rate of population increase in the West - about 3.0% in the period 1990-1996 and 2.5% in 1997. Most Western European countries and Japan have growth rates under 1.0%; several countries have negative growth (Portugal at -0.2%; Italy at -0.1%). Most Eastern European countries also exhibit negative population increase (e.g., Hungary at -0.3%). Rates of increase in the United States, Canada, and Australia slightly exceed 1.0%.

8. Population increase has two components: natural increase (births minus deaths) and migration balance (immigrants minus emigrants). Among the Jewish population of Israel, the fluctuations in immigration over the years have caused the weights of these components in the total increase to fluctuate as well. Since the establishment of the State, natural increase and the migration balance equally accounted for the growth of its Jewish population. In the mass-immigration period (1948–1951), the migration balance accounted for nearly 90% of the increase; in 1990-1991, it verged on 80%. As immigration slowed since 1992, the share of the migration balance in the total increase of the Jewish population diminished (40% in 1997).

9. The growth of the Muslim and Druze populations stems almost uniquely from natural increase.

10. In the 1970s and 1980s, the migration balance accounted for 10% of the increase of the Christian population (an increase of about 2,000 persons per year). In 1996 and 1997, the migration balance accounted for 25% of the increase (some 3,000 persons per year). As “religion unclassified” inhabitants have been separated from the Christian population since 1995 (see second note on Page 2), the early 1990s data are not comparable with those of subsequent years and, for this reason, are not shown here. The “religion-unclassified” group has grown rapidly (by about 28% per year), and 90% of its increase traces to the migration balance.

11. Israel has a higher rate of population increase than Western countries both because of a large influx of immigrants and because it has a high rate of natural increase, relative to these countries. The country has a large surplus of births over deaths (the rate of natural increase is 11 per thousand inhabitants) as against very small surpluses of births over deaths in most Western countries, especially in Europe - about 1 per thousand (e.g., in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, and France) or even surpluses of deaths over births (e.g., in Greece and Italy).

12. Israel’s rate of natural increase is higher than that in Western countries because of a combination of a lower crude mortality rate (deaths per thousand inhabitants) and a higher crude birth rate (births per thousand inhabitants) than in the West - twice the crude birth rate observed in many countries (Neither the crude birth rate nor the crude mortality rate is a “net” indicator of the respective phenomena; each is affected by the relative size of age cohorts (and other factors) in the population).


13. In 1997, Israel had nearly 125,000 births, of which 69% were to Jewish mothers. In the 1950s, the annual number of births was about 50,000. The steady increase in the number of births is mainly accounted for by the steady increase in the number of women of childbearing age, as part of the increase in the population at large.

14. The rate of increase in the number of births has been lower among Jewish women than among non-Jewish women. In addition to differences in fertility, three factors are at work: faster increase in the number of non-Jewish women of childbearing age; greater frequency of marriage; and younger age at marriage among the former. The number of Muslim women, for example, of childbearing age (20–44) increased by 35% between 1990 and 1997, as against a 15% increase among Jewish women in the same age group. The percent of married women aged 20–29, the cohort in which most fertility takes place, is 71% among Muslim women as against 47% among Jewish women.

15. The fertility rate (average number of children per woman) has been decreasing in all population groups throughout the history of the State. In the past twenty years, for example, the average fertility rate has declined from 3.3 to 2.6 among Jewish women, from 8.0 to 4.6 among Muslim women, from 7.4 to 3.2 among Druze women, and from 3.2 to 2.6 among Christian women. Within the period of the last two decades the decline in fertility of Jewish and Moslem women has been almost arrested in recent years (the 1990s), whereas among the Druze women it is still in progress - from 4.0 births per woman in 1990 the average went down to 3.2 in 1997.

16. Despite the decrease in fertility, the average number of children per woman is much higher in Israel - 2.9 - than in Western countries, e.g., the United States - 2.1; Sweden - 1.8; United Kingdom - 1.8; and Germany - 1.3.

17. The fertility rate of Muslim women in Israel resembles that in Jordan (4.8 children per women) but surpasses that of Egypt (3.4).

18. There are vast differences between the very high fertility of Muslim women in the Southern District (most of whom are Bedouin) - 9.7 children per women - and in the Northern District - 3.9.

19. In 1997, Jewish women in Jerusalem had 3.8 children; those in Tel Aviv and Haifa had 2.0.

20. The share of births to never-married women is 2%, and it is rising.


21. In 1997, there were 36,000 deaths in Israel, of which 92% were of Jews. The paucity of deaths among non-Jewish inhabitants (8%) relative to the share of non-Jews in the country (20%) stems partly from their being a young population group. Only 3% of non-Jews are aged 65 or older as against 12% of Jews. (The average age of non-Jews is about 20; that of Jews is nearly 30.)

22. Life expectancy of men in Israel (76.3 y) is the third highest in the world, trailing only Japan and Sweden. Life expectancy of women in Israel (79.9) is also high (ahead of women in the United States and the United Kingdom, for example), although it ranked lower than that of men in an international comparison (tenth in 1994/95).

23. Since the State was established, life expectancy in Israel has increased by 12 years among men and by 13 years among women - a large gain in international standards.

24. Men’s life expectancy in Israel is 76.6 years for Jews and 74.9 years for non-Jews; women’s life expectancy is 80.3 years for Jews and 77.7 years for non-Jews.

25. Life expectancy of non-Jews falls short of that of Jews mainly because the non-Jewish population has twice the rate of infant mortality.

26. Israel’s infant mortality rate (infant deaths per thousand births) has fallen from more than 40 in the early 1950s (more than 60 among non-Jews) to less than 10 in the 1990s. In 1996, infant mortality rate was 6.3 - 5.0 among Jews and 9.3 among non-Jews. Among adults, the inter-group differences in mortality are not large, and among men aged 65+ non-Jews even have a longer life expectancy than Jews.

27. Most infant deaths in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s were caused by contagious diseases. Since the 1970s, the rising standard of living, improvements in environmental conditions and the level of medical care have eliminated contagious diseases as a significance cause of death. The two main causes of infant mortality today are congenital defects and immaturity.


28. Since the State was established, it has taken in 2.6 million immigrants in several large influxes. In the first, between May 1948 and the end of 1951, nearly 700,000 immigrants arrived - a number approximating the Jewish population in the country in May 1948. The largest number of immigrants in any year in Israel’s history was 240,000 immigrants who arrived in 1949.

29. Between 1952 and 1989, annual immigration ranged from 10,000 to 70,000.

In 1990–1997, Israel received 820,000 immigrants. During this period, the influx was strongest in 1990 (200,000) and weakest in 1997 (66,000).

30. Of the 820,000 immigrants who arrived between 1990 and 1997, 675,000 (82%) were born in the European republics of the former Soviet Union and 25,000 were born in the Asian republics. Also, 34,000 Ethiopia-born immigrants arrived during those years (with a peak in 1991). More than 5,000 immigrants arrived from each of the following countries: the United States, France, Argentina and Romania.

31. The 1990s immigration reversed the downtrend in the percent of Jews of European-American origin (persons born in those countries and Israel-born persons whose fathers were born there), which had persisted between the early 1950s (when about half of the Jews in Israel were of European-American origin) and 1989 (when members of that origin group accounted for slightly more than one-third of the country’s Jewish population).

At the end of 1997 , 40% of Jews in Israel belonged to the Europe-America origin group, 15% were of Asian origin, 18% were of African origin, and 27% were born in Israel to Israel-born fathers.

32. According to data from the 1995 Census of Population and Housing, the highest percent of immigrants who arrived since 1990 was in the Ashqelon Sub-district (in which the cities of Ashqelon and Ashdod are located) - the 80,000 immigrants in this sub-district at the end of 1995 accounted for one-fourth of its population. About 100,000 immigrants lived in the Tel Aviv Sub-district (the largest immigrant population in any sub-district) and accounted for 9% of the sub-district population. Importantly, the Tel Aviv Sub-district is the largest in the country, with a population of 1.1 million.

Spatial Distribution

33. At the end of 1997, the distribution of the population by districts (as determined by the Ministry of the Interior) was as follows: Jerusalem District - 12%; Northern District - 17%; Haifa District - 13%; Central District - 22%; Tel Aviv District - 19%; and Southern District - 14%. Approximately 3% of the population resided in Jewish localities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District.

34. The changes in the population distribution since the establishment of the State are shown in Graph no. 7. At that time, the population was more densely concentrated in the central districts and few inhabitants dwelled in peripheral areas. More than one-third of the population lived in the Tel Aviv District; 70% of the inhabitants dwelled in the Tel Aviv, Central, and Haifa Districts, and 20% of the population lived in the two peripheral districts - Northern and Southern. Today, the fraction of the population in the Tel Aviv, Central, and Haifa Districts is about one half, and that in the Northern and Southern Districts is 31%.

35. The vigorous growth of the Central District, which in the 1990s became the most populous in the country, was the result of a large influx of population - foremost from the Tel Aviv District by means of suburbanization (outflux of population from cities to rural areas on the fringes or the proximity of cities) and from other districts.

36. The share of the Southern District in the population has climbed from 3% in 1948 to 14% today. This increase occurred in two main surges: one in the 1950s and 1960s, as part of a policy meant to disperse the immigrants (the growth of Be’er Sheva and Ashdod during this time stands out) and one in the 1990s, chiefly involving the resettlement of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In the 1990s, Southern District localities near metropolitan Tel Aviv, foremost Ashdod (but also Qiryat Gat, Qiryat Mal’akhi, and Sederot) became desired destinations for immigrants who were able to choose their place of residence under the direct-absorption policy. The internal migration balances in the Southern District, which were negative in the 1970s and 1980s, have become positive. This district has had the highest relative growth in the country in the 1990s, - its population gaining 2% - and it became the fourth most populous district, surpassing the Jerusalem and Haifa Districts.

37. A majority of all the Druze (about 80%) and Christians (60%) in Israel live in the Northern District. About 40% of the Muslim population lives there, as does only 10% of the Jewish population.

Jews account for slightly less than half of the population of the Northern District, as against a range in the other districts - from 71% (Jerusalem District) to 96% (Tel Aviv District).

38. Population density in the Tel Aviv District - 6,666 persons per square kilometer - is 25 times higher than the average density in Israel of at 265 persons per square kilometer (not including Israelis in Judea-Samaria and the Gaza District). Density is about 1,000 persons per square kilometer in the Central and Jerusalem Districts, 900 in the Haifa District, 220 in the Northern District, and 57 in the Southern District.


39. Israel has 1,183 localities - 202 urban (with populations of 2,000 or more) and 981 rural.

40. The urban localities are home to 90% of Israel inhabitants - one of the highest urbanization rates in the world, even though different countries define the urban population in different ways (Graph No. 8).

41. The urbanization rate is similar among Jews and non-Jews (91% and 93%, respectively), but the distribution of the two population groups in terms of the size of localities they inhabit is different: about 80% of Jews dwell in cities that have populations of more than 20,000 as against 37% of non-Jews. One-fourth of non-Jews dwell in very small localities (under 10,000); only 6% of Jews do so.

Over the years, the fraction of non-Jews in very small localities has fallen as these localities have grown.

42. At the end of 1997, the largest city in Israel, Jerusalem, had a population of 622,000. The population of Tel Aviv was 349,000 and that of Haifa was 264,000. Nine other cities had populations of more than 100,000, as shown in Graph no. 9. The 1997 growth rates in most of these major cities were under the national average of 2.5, with several cities having negative growth.

43. Two metropolitanareas (Tel Aviv and Haifa) were defined in Israel each including a large number of localities that are interrelated economically, socially and culturally. The Metropolitan Area of Tel Aviv includes 256 localities with a population of 2.6 million (44% of the population of the country) and the Metropolitan Area of Haifa has 97 localities with a population of 830,000 (14%). In 1997, the Metropolitan Area of Tel Aviv grew by 2.2% and the Metropolitan Area of Haifa by 1.8%.

44. The rural localities include up of 455 moshavim and cooperative moshavim (185,000 population), 267 kibbutzim (119,000), 117 community settlements (63,000), 33 institutional settlements (13,000), and 109 other rural settlements (96,000). Another 51,000 persons, mostly Bedouins, dwell outside of localities.

45. The kibbutz population increased until the mid-1980s when it reached 127,000 persons. Since then, the kibbutzim have lost population each year (except for 1991). In 1987-1997, the kibbutz population contracted by 8%.



Graph 1: Populaton Growth 1948-1997
Graph 2: Annual Growth 1990-1996
Graph 3: Componets of Natural Increase 1990-1996
Graph 4: Average Number of Children per Woman 1949-1997
Graph 5: Life Expectancy 1970-1996
Graph 6: Immigrants 1987-1997
Graph 7: Population by Districs 1948-1997
Graph 8: Urban Population 1990-1995
Graph 9: Localities of Above 100,000 Inhabitants 1999

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