By the year 2065, Israel's population will number 20 million and it is on track to become the most crowded country in the OECD, according to a study published by the Shoresh Institution this month.
It's already known that Israel has the highest fertility rates in the developed world and the Shoresh Institution findings show that Israel's rate stands in a league of its own at 3.1, almost a full child per family more Mexico, which comes behind it on the list.While Israel’s high fertility rate is often celebrated by the country, President of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research and an economist at Tel-Aviv University Professor Dan Ben-David used his study to warn that Israel is heading toward an unsustainable situation of overpopulation, low labor productivity and a severe population gap.
With 8.8 million people at the end of 2017, Israel is already the fourth most crowded country in the OECD, behind Belgium, Netherlands and Korea, the latter being the most crowded but with the lowest birth rates (1.2).
According to the study, by 2065, the forecast is for 922 Israelis per square kilometer – two and a half times Israel’s current population density.
The Shoresh Institution study shows that already today, Israel’s dependency ratio, meaning the share of non-working age population to working-age population, is the highest in the OECD - 64.2% according to data from 2015.
Ben-David predicts that the future economic burden will be exacerbated by the internal composition of Israel’s fertility rates, with the latest Central Bureau of Statistics data from 2016 putting current haredi fertility rates at just under 7 children per family, while the average rate among Muslim women is 3.29, religious/traditional Jews just over 3, and Druze, Christians and secular Jews just over 2.
The report flags that even among the share of the country’s working-age population, the proportion not participating in the labor force is greater than in most OECD countries. "Hence, the burden on the remaining shoulders who do work is high, and can be expected to rise substantially in the future," the institute notes.
It also highlights OECD data from 2011-2014 which puts Israel 6th from the bottom of the list of 34 OECD countries with regard to literacy and numeracy proficiency scores in international exams.
Israel’s Arabic-speaking children account for a quarter of its first graders, the institute notes. Their average scores in math, science and reading in international exams are below those of many Third World countries. Moreover, the majority of haredi children – who account for almost one-fifth of Israel’s first graders – do not even participate in the international exams and many do not study core curriculum subjects Ben-David says: “the population groups with the highest fertility rates in Israel are receiving an education that will not enable them to support a developed economy in the future – with all of the national security implications that this will have on Israel’s future ability to exist in the most violent region on the planet.”
“The direction that Israel is currently headed is clear," said Ben-David. "It is leading to much more than severe overcrowding and overuse of the small country’s very limited resources. The composition of the fast growing population is leading to an eventual outcome that will extend beyond the inhospitable to the unsustainable in terms of Israel’s ability to fund its needs and protect its borders.”
“While a turnaround in government policies that have encouraged high fertility rates – from the elimination of child benefits through removal of housing benefits to the discontinuing of subsidized fertility treatments for families with many children – is mandatory, it’s effect will be more in terms of a signal to society of a change in national priorities since their overall impact on fertility has been marginal at best,” Ben-David continued.
“The primary route to a significant change in national fertility rates lies elsewhere, in opening the education floodgates and letting the knowledge already existing in its best higher education institutions flow to every school in Israel – with particular emphasis on the areas currently receiving a Third World education. Education is not only a major factor in determining personal economic well-being. As has been the case across the developed world, and in Israel, birth rates are not immune to the profound impact that education has on living standards," Ben-David concluded.