As the Central Bureau of Statistics put the population of Israel at 6,990,700 in its annual statistical summary released ahead of the new Jewish year 5767, an expert in the field of Jewish demographics said the country's biggest challenge was to preserve the shape of the Israeli family.
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"We must try to preserve the social balance between those exponents that make up the Israeli family," Professor Sergio DellaPergola, Head of the Division of Jewish Demography and Statistics, the Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday.
"There is a problem with the Israeli family," he continued. "The crucial question is whether it will continue as is. It is not healthy that most of the children born in Israel today are to lower income or poorer families and those of middle to higher-class families are bringing fewer children."
"Public authorities need to be aware of the needs of young families," he said. "They must offer them assistance in areas such as housing, education and sensitivity to working mothers. These are the fundamentals of a social policy that can help keep the demographic balanced and operational."
DellaPergola also noted that it was essential for the birthrate to be kept on equilibrium. "We must not follow the trend of Europe, where the birthrate has severely slowed down," said DellaPergola. The statistics report a fall of 4% over the past two years of the average number of children a woman is expected to have over the course of her life.
According to the statistics, out of the 6,990,700 people counted at the end of 2005, 5,313,800 were identified as Jews and 1,377,100 as Arabs. The growth rate of the population stood at 1.8 percent, roughly the same figure as the previous two years.
However, while the rate of growth among the Jewish population was steady at 1.5%, the 76% that makes up that population has fallen by 1.8% since 2000 (when it was 77.8%). In the Muslim sector, the rate of growth has actually fallen by 3% in the past year but has seen an overall rise of 1.1% since 2000.
In total, Jews make up 5,313,800 of the population, Muslims 1,140,600, Christians, 146,000, Druze, 115,200, and 272, 200 people who did not classify themselves as any religion.
DellaPergola explained the apparent growth of those claiming to not follow any religion as being an adjustment in the data gathering system of the CBS. In the past, those without a religion - which he said were mostly new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, who had arrived in Israel under the law of return - were simply counted as being part of the Jewish population.
"There is a problem here that these people are pushed out of mainstream society," said DellaPergola. "Even though they serve in the army and participate fully in the community. They should have more of a feeling of belonging."
The report also highlighted Israel as being one of the most densely populated countries of its size in the world, with 305 people per square kilometer. Tel Aviv was found to be the most densely populated of the country's large cities, with Jerusalem close behind followed by Haifa.
"[Israel] is definitely much higher than other European populates," commented DellaPergola, adding however, that, "there is still a lot of suitable space in the south of the country."
The report also found that Israel is still a relatively young population, 28% of the population under 14, compared to 17% in other Western countries. However, it did note a slight increase in the elderly population but still falls behind other European countries. Here, seniors make up 10% of the population and the average for other countries is 15%.
In terms of gender, the statistics noted a continuing trend of increase in the percent of single men and women among Jews in all age groups, especially among the younger age groups.
In 2000, some 72.5% of Jewish men and 54% of Jewish women between the ages of 20 and 29 were single. In 2004, those figures rose to 75% for men and 57.7% women. The main reason for this increase is the deferment of the marriage age, according to DellaPergola.
Another area of growth was that of divorced men and women in all areas of the population.
Life expectancy in Israel continued to rise in 2005, reaching 78.3 years for men and 82.38 for women. However, the gap between Jewish and Arab life expectancy also grew; Jewish men can expect to live 3.1 years longer than Arab men, and Jewish women tend to live 3.6 years longer than their Arab counterparts.
While DellaPergola claimed that the era of large group immigration to Israel has now ended, the CBS report showed that in 2005, 21,000 immigrants arrived in Israel, a similar figure to the previous year. 9,400 of those were from the former Soviet Union, 3,600 from Ethiopia, 2,500 from France and 2,000 from the United States - an increase of 5% compared to 2004.
The contribution of immigration to the annual population growth stands at less than 9% compared to 1990-1991 where it was 75-80%.
Overall, DellaPergola said that the report indicated no major changes. "Demography is a very slow mechanism," he said. "There are changes but there is a delay of several years before we see them reported."