children crowd .
(photo credit: )
The average Israeli woman gives birth to 2.84 children - a 4 percent decrease from 2003. The reduction was a result of Muslims and Druse having fewer children, as the fertility rate remains steady among Jews.
Israel has a higher fertility rate than the US, Germany, Turkey, Algeria, France, the Netherlands, Greece and Taiwan. For every 100 girls, 105.6 boys were born, which was within the "normal biological range" of 104 to 106 boys for every 100 girls.
These statistics were contained in a report released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Monday, "Patterns of Fertility in 2005." It also reported that the average age of a mother giving birth to her first child had risen to 26.6, 17 months older than the average a decade earlier.
The usual reasons for a decline in fertility are increased education and living standards, but no explanation was offered in the report.
The average age of women who gave birth last year was 29.5, compared to 27.3 during the 1980s. The average age at first birth declined to 26.6 because of the delay of first marriage to an average of 24.5 years. Jewish women have their first babies at 27.5 years on average, compared to 23.2 for Muslims.
Fewer women under 20 are giving birth, according to the report; a total of 4,104 babies were born last year to women in their teens or younger. There was also an increase in multiple deliveries - twins or more - to 4.5% of live births. Israel leads all countries in this respect, largely because of the heavy use of fertility treatments.
In 2005, 143,913 babies were born: 70% to Jewish women; 24% to Muslims; 3% to those whose religion was not categorized by the Interior Ministry (mostly from the former Soviet Union); 2% to Druse; and 1% to Christian Arab women.
During the previous year, 145,207 babies were born. The decline in 2006 was due to 5.6% fewer babies being born to Muslims and 0.7% fewer to Druse women. The greatest decline in fertility was in the Druse community, whose women gave birth to an average of 4.1 children in 1990 and now have only 2.6. Christian Arab fertility declined from 2.7 per woman a decade ago to 2.2 today.
After 15 years stable fertility among Muslim woman, the rate dropped from about 4.7 per woman in 2000 to 4.6 last year. Jewish fertility has remained at about 2.7. The lowest fertility rates during the last decade were among women with "unclassified" religion, who had an average of 1.5 children each.
The rate of babies born to single Jewish women has risen to 6.6 per 1,000, up from 3.6 in the early Nineties. Most of these were mothers aged 35 to 39.
More than 11,800 low-birth-weight babies (up to 2.5 kilos) were born last year - 8.3% of births among both the Jewish and Muslim communities and 6.3% among Druse - largely because of multiple pregnancies.
Fully 99.5% of births take place in hospitals; even among Muslim women in the South, the rate is 95%. Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba remains the champion in delivering babies, with 11,935 born there last year - boosted by the high Beduin birth rate.