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Vital Statistics: An Introduction


Population changes reflect the natural facts of life: births and deaths. Births, in turn, have long been largely governed by the mechanisms of family formation. Vital statistics are compilations of data on marriage, divorce, birth, and death. Births and deaths directly determine changes in the size of a population; marriages and divorces create and dissolve, respectively, the conditions under which most births occur. The surplus of births over deaths is called natural increase; under unfavorable demographic conditions, deaths may exceed births, in which case a natural decrease occurs.

Vital events constitute one of the components of population dynamics; the others are migration and, for a group like the Jews, adhesion and withdrawal. In a "closed" population, unaffected by migrations and by adhesions or withdrawals, the numerical evolution depends entirely on the balance of births and deaths. The natural increase (or decrease) is indeed of fundamental importance for the future of any population, but the migratory changes may counteract the vital balance for some time. For example, despite strong natural increase, there was probably no growth in the total number of Jews in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century because of extensive emigration, mostly to America. On the other hand, among Jewish populations in Central and Western Europe throughout the 20th century prevailing natural decrease was outweighed or at least compensated by a positive migratory balance.

The figures of vital events in any population are strongly affected by its age composition. In a population containing a very large proportion of young adults, as may be the case where there has been large immigration, birth figures may be high in spite of a modest level of fertility (for definition of this term, see measurement, below); on the other hand, under conditions of advanced aging frequently found at present in Jewish populations, actual death figures may be high even though the specific mortality in each age group is comparatively low. All these factors need to be considered in evaluating the causes and consequences of population trends. The age composition of a population at any specific time is itself the result of the demographic dynamics of preceding decades: unless migratory influences or adhesions/withdrawals were particularly conspicuous, it largely depends on past fertility. A prolonged decrease in births leads to the aging of a population. In the early phases of aging the proportion of children decreases while that of all adults, including the adults of procreative age, increases. This in turn tends to sustain the crude birth rate while deaths of children will be relatively fewer per 1,000 of the population (which may reduce the crude death rate especially if child mortality is still conspicuous). In later phases of aging, the proportion of elderly and old persons in the population grows, and consequently, the crude birth rate is depressed and the crude death rate rises. Age composition thus intervenes as both the consequence and the cause of the frequency of vital events in a population.


Absolute figures of births, deaths, etc., are important for calculating up-to-date estimates of population size and for planning such social services as schools, hospitals, etc. For demographic analysis, it is necessary to consider the frequency of vital events in relation to the population in which they occur. The resulting figures are called demographic rates. "Crude" rates usually indicate the frequency of vital events per 1,000 of mean population in a specified year. The commonly mentioned "birth rate" and "death rate" are of this nature. Crude rates make no allowance for age and sex composition of a population. Consequently, if this composition is markedly distorted, crude rates are liable to lead to misconceptions about the intrinsic demographic situation. Unfortunately, crude rates are often the best available information on vital events among Jewish populations, especially prior to the last few decades.

To overcome the shortcomings inherent in crude rates, age-sex specific rates are calculated to show correctly the frequency of vital events in any specified age-sex group of the population during a certain period. These rates can be synthesized by the use of appropriate techniques. Demographic indicators thus obtained – e.g., "fertility rates" for the measurement of reproduction and "mean life expectancy at birth" for the measurement of mortality – are unaffected by peculiarities in the age-sex composition of any population. They depend, however, on the availability of data broken down by small age groups and by sex, with regard to both the total population and the persons involved in the given vital events (such as the women giving birth, the deceased, etc.). Under present conditions of documentation on Jewish vital statistics, such data are only very partially available. In addition, if the absolute numbers for vital events are broken down by age and sex, very small figures, which are liable to irregularities, result in all but the larger Jewish populations. It is also possible to calculate "standardized rates," assuming, for the sake of comparison, the same age distribution for several demographic groups, e.g., the Jews and the general population of the respective country. The concept of "fertility" relates the births not to the entire population of both sexes and all ages but to the women of reproductive age. It means basically, the number of children born, on the average, to women throughout their reproductive period.


Vital statistics on Jews in Diaspora countries come from either official or Jewish sources. Official statistics of this kind now exist only for a minority of the Jews in Diaspora countries. Data on vital events either come from current statistics reflecting the administrative registration of births, deaths, etc., or are obtained from censuses and surveys. In the latter instances, some of the relevant information may be derived from retrospective questions on age at marriage of the persons ever married, on the number of children born to the enumerated women, etc. Under present conditions, current vital statistics from Jewish sources tend to reflect the frequency of religious functions, such as weddings, divorces, circumcisions, and burials, rather than give a full demographic picture, because some Jews recur to civil ceremonies alone.


The widely prevalent descriptive model of the demographic transition divides the modern evolution of the populations of the technologically advanced countries into four stages. In the first stage, which represents the conditions of the past, both fertility and mortality were very high, so that only limited natural increase could materialize. In stage two, which fell mainly into the 19th and early 20th centuries, mortality declined, while fertility continued to be high; considerable natural increase resulted, and the respective populations grew rapidly. In stage three fertility also declined due to the diffusion of birth control; population growth consequently diminished, with a low being reached in the 1930s. The fourth stage – in the context of a generally moderate or low mortality level – resulted in repeated upward and downward fertility fluctuations (such as a "baby boom" in some Western countries and an ensuing "baby bust") reflecting response to changing circumstances. Eventually fertility subsided again, yet maintained itself at somewhat different levels in different countries. In Europe, stages two and three did not begin at the same time in the various countries but spread, on the whole, from west to east. Even within the same country, the timing of the changes differed according to social group and geographical location: the educated, well-todo, and urban elements were involved earlier than the other groups. By 1970 nearly all the populations in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America had entered upon stage two which expresses itself by a "population explosion," and some had already entered upon stage three. By 2000 all countries were moving through one or another stage of demographic transition. Significantly, a fifth stage had emerged mostly among European societies, showing a negative balance between birth and death rates and reflecting a progressive aging of age composition.

It is noteworthy that the Jews of Europe preceded the general population of the respective countries in effecting the transition from stage one to two, lowering mortality, from stage two to three, adoption of family planning, from stage three to four, fertility response to changing environment, and from stage four to stage five, population erosion due to a negative balance of births and deaths. In this, as well as in the subsequent developments, the Jews intensively displayed the characteristics of the social and ecological strata in which they were largely concentrated – the educated and urbanized, with a tendency to white-collar occupations. Besides these compositional effects, additional and more specifically Jewish determinants in the cultural and socio-psychological realm played an important role in the demographic evolution of the Jews.


The limited data available from some European cities in the 18th century give the impression that Jewish mortality was already declining. There is ample documentation to show the systematic decline of Jewish mortality all over Europe throughout the 19th century, though there was some time lag between this development among the Jews in the countries of Central and Western Europe, on the one hand, and of Eastern Europe, on the other. In any country of Europe and at any time during the 19th century, the crude death rate of the Jews was almost always lower than that of the entire population of the respective country (see Table 1). This was largely

Table 1: Births, Deaths, and Natural Increase (Rates)1 (Selected Data) Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography; Statistical Abstract of Israel (various issues). Table 1: Births, Deaths, and Natural Increase (Rates)1 (Selected Data)
Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography; Statistical Abstract of Israel (various issues). The vital statistics are official ones, except for those on the Jews of Italy which are based on registration by the Jewish communities.

Births Deaths Natural Increase
Country or City Period Jews General Population Jews General Population Jews General Population
1 Rates per 1,000 of population. Some of the figures are only approximate or based
2 Jews and non-Jews, respectively.
3 Corrected version of official figures for Jews.
4 1926–1928 for general population.
5 1945 for non-Jews.
6 Estimates.
Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography; Statistical Abstract of Israel (various issues). The vital statistics are official ones, except for those on the Jews of Italy which are based on registration by the Jewish communities.
Amsterdam2 1899–1900 25 30 12 17 13 13
1919–1922 19 22 11 11 8 11
Switzerland 1959–1961 11 18 16 10 −5 8
Prussia 1822–1840 36 40 22 30 14 10
1876–1880 32 39 18 24 14 15
1906–1910 17 32 14 17 3 15
1921–1925 14 23 13 14 1 9
1926–1927 12 20 14 12 −2 8
1933 7 15 16 11 −9 4
Berlin 1925 12 12 14 11 −2 1
Germany (F.G.R.) 1960–1962 6 18 21 11 −15 7
Vienna 1880 28 40 14 28 14 12
1901–1910 18 27 14 18 4 9
1921–1923 14 16 13 15 1 1
1934 4 6 14 12 −10 −6

Vital Statistics

1960–1962 6 18 31 16 −25 2
Italy 1851–1875 29 37 24 31 5 6
1876–1900 23 36 20 26 3 10
1901–1910 18 33 17 22 1 11
1921–1930 16 28 17 17 −1 11
1931–1935 11 24 17 14 −6 10
1951–1955 10 18 15 10 −5 8
1961–1965 11 19 16 10 −5 9
Hungary 1891–1895 36 42 19 33 17 9
1906–1910 29 36 15 25 14 11
1926–1930 13 26 14 17 −1 9
1931–1935 11 22 14 16 −3 6
Budapest 1931–1934 8 16 15 16 −7 0
Czechoslovakia 1931–1933 18 21 13 14 5 7
Bohemia 1930 7 18 15 13 −8 5
Galicia 1882 46 48 29 36 17 12
1901–1902 38 44 19 27 19 17
1910 32 39 16 24 16 15
Russian Poland2 1906 29 39 16 23 13 16
Poland 1926–19303 21 32 11 17 10 15
1931–1936 19 28 10 15 9 13
Warsaw2 1930–1936 13 14 10 12 3 2
Lithuania 1927 17 30 10 17 7 13
Latvia 1926–1927 17 22 11 15 6 7
Russia 1900–19043 34 49 16 31 18 18
St. Petersburg (Leningrad) 1910–1913 18 28 11 22 7 6
U.S.S.R. 1926 24 43 9 20 15 23
Romania 1881–1886 47 41 26 26 21 15
1906–1910 30 40 17 26 13 14
1926–1928 20 36 13 22 7 14
1936–1938 14 31 13 19 1 12
Bulgaria 1891–1895 38 38 23 28 15 10
1904–1907 34 43 14 22 20 21
1925–19284 22 35 11 18 11 17
1933–1936 17 28 10 15 7 13
Canada 1930 15 24 6 11 9 13
1940 14 22 7 10 7 12
1950 20 26 8 9 12 17
1957–1959 15 28 8 8 7 20
Tunisia2 1921 41 21 20
19465 37 39 15 19 22 20
Israel 1923–1925 35.8 14.1 21.7
(Palestine) 1931–1935 30.3 9.3 21.0
1936–1940 25.7 8.0 17.7
1946–1947 29.4 6.2 23.2
1949–1950 31.2 6.6 24.6
1965 22.6 6.4 16.2
Israel–Jews of European origin6 1965 15 8 7
Jews of Asian–African Origin6 1965 30 5 25

due to the reasons adduced above for the peculiar position of the Jews in the framework of modern demographic transitions: their concentration in towns and particularly in large cities, which by the 19th century in Europe had better hygienic conditions and health services than rural areas; their higher educational level; and their other socioeconomic characteristics. Additional cultural factors, that were specific to the reduction of mortality, may have included the hygienic influence of the observance of some traditional Jewish precepts in the selection and preparation of food, washing of hands, and ablutions, etc.; the rarity of venereal diseases and alcoholism among Jews; the comparative frequency of physicians among them; and perhaps also greater attention to health and especially to the health of children, the reduction of whose previously high mortality was a major feature in the overall improvement of the mortality situation. The differentials in the death rate of Jews and non-Jews were smaller for towns than for entire countries where the non-Jewish rural population is included in the comparisons.

The differentials between Jews and non-Jews were sometimes particularly conspicuous with regard to infant mortality (see Table 2).

Comparing cause-of-death distributions and morbidity patterns of Jews and non-Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries, one finds lower proportions of infectious diseases and diseases of the digestive system among the Jews. An often observed difference was the lower frequency of tuberculosis among Jews.

During the Holocaust, Jewish mortality in Europe was on an altogether catastrophic scale: the majority of Jews there perished. The age groups most affected were the old and the very young. The deficiency of persons whose childhood coincided with the Holocaust period continues to make itself felt in the age distribution of European Jews. It was aggravated by a great reduction in Jewish births before, and even more so during the persecutions.

While the Jews in Europe and in technologically advanced countries of other continents preceded their neighbors in the reduction of mortality, the majority of populations closed the gap in the course of time and the respective differentials narrowed substantially. This had already happened in some cities and countries even before the Holocaust. Because of the increasing aging of many Jewish populations, these developments cannot be studied properly from crude rates, and more refined methods must be resorted to. In particular, it has been possible to calculate the mean life expectancy at birth which is based on age-specific rates and not affected by the actual age composition for several Jewish populations. In recent decades, the life expectancy of Jews in advanced countries has been growing by about one year of life every five calendar years, and around the year 2000 it reached 80 years for women and 75 years for men. Although only little different from that of the general population in the corresponding countries or cities, a tendency for infant mortality to be lower among Jews persisted. On the other hand, crude mortality rates of Jews considerably exceed those

Table 2: Infant Mortality (Rates)1 (Selected Data) Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography; Statistical Abstract of Israel (various issues). Table 2: Infant Mortality (Rates)1 (Selected Data)
Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography; Statistical Abstract of Israel (various issues). The vital statistics are official ones, except for those on the Jews of Italy which are based on registration by the Jewish communities.

Country or City Period Jews General Population
1 Deceased under 1 year per 1,000 live births. Some of the figures are only approximate or based on different definitions.
2 Jews and non-Jews, respectively.
3 The three principal Jewish communities in Italy.
Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography; Statistical Abstract of Israel (various issues). The vital statistics are official ones, except for those on the Jews of Italy which are based on registration by the Jewish communities.
Amsterdam 1907–1909 75 90
1919–1923 41 50
Switzerland 1947–1954 26 32
1959–1963 12 21
Berlin 1924–1926 43 90
Florence 1838–1847 149 218
Rome 1901–1907 72 138
Italy 1965 333 38
Hungary2 1925–1926 96 170
Budapest 1880 159 271
1904–19052 103 166
1930 63 114
Poland 1927 73 151
1931–1936 49 138
Lithuania 1927 35 156
1935–1937 46 124
Latvia 1926–1927 38 89
European Russia 1900–1904 119 254
U.S.S.R. 1926 57 174
St. Petersburg (Leningrad) 1900–1904 109 260
1922–1924 78 178
Montreal 1931 43 113
1941 24 70
1951 10 43
1961 (6) 23
Israel (Palestine) 1923–1925 121
1931–1935 78
1946–1947 30
1949–1950 49
1955 32
1965 23

of the respective general populations, mainly due to the overaged composition of the respective Jewish groups.

The Israel population census of 1961 was instrumental in furnishing information on the mortality conditions of the Jews in Asian and African countries. The census contained a question addressed to women who were ever married: "How many of their children born abroad before immigration to Israel died below the age of 5?" The available data provide relevant information for the participants in the mass migration of 1948–54 (see Table 3). Child mortality among the Jews was still very high in Yemen but reached various stages of decrease in other countries of major Jewish residence in Asia and Africa. Younger women had been affected by lower child mortality than older women, whose experience stretched back into earlier decades.

Table 3: Mortality below Age Five per 100 Children Born in Asia and Africa (Born to Jewish Women who Subsequently Immigrated to Israel during 194854) Source: Israel Population Census, 1961, vol. 32. Table 3: Mortality below Age Five per 100 Children Born in Asia and Africa (Born to Jewish Women who Subsequently Immigrated to Israel during 1948–54)
Source: Israel Population Census, 1961, vol. 32.

Women's Country of Birth Women's Age at Immigration
20–24 45–49
Asia and Africa – Total 21 27
There of: Yemen, Aden 47 46
Iraq 14 20
Iran 17 (26)
Turkey 14 19
Egypt 9 (34)
Libya 22 29
Tunisia, Algeria 27 37
Morocco, Tangier 22 32

In Palestine, Jews achieved a remarkable reduction of mortality during the Mandatory period (1918–48), largely due to the strong immigration of European elements and the establishment of active and highly qualified health services. In the latter part of the 1940s, the Jewish population in Palestine was already counted among the very advanced in the world insofar as lowering of mortality was concerned. Some temporary setback, especially in infant mortality, was caused by the mass immigration of Jews from less developed countries in Asia and Africa in the early years of the State of Israel, but it was overcome with astonishing speed. The whole Jewish population had a mean life expectancy in excess of 70 years for females since 1951, and for males since 1959.

Marriage and Divorce

Among the European Jews in the past, as far as is ascertainable from available information, marriage was widespread. Few people did not marry at all unless prevented by official restrictions. Persons of both sexes contracted their (first) marriage at a rather early age. Though high mortality led to frequent instances of widowhood, this was often followed by remarriage, especially of men. In this case, the average age difference between spouses was greater than in the first marriage. Women used to spend a very large proportion of their reproductive years in married life, and this favored high fertility. In addition, there was hardly any out-marriage. Among the Jews in Europe and later among Jews of European origin who settled in America and in other areas of immigration changes developed in this traditional marriage pattern in the course of time. These changes were connected, among other things, with the spread of secularization and the modern complexion of Jewish life. There emerged some tendency for a larger proportion of Jews to remain unmarried which was already particularly marked in Central and Western Europe between the world wars and has again become conspicuous since the 1970s. There was also a systematic rise in age at first marriage, very clearly shown by retrospective census data on the large body of European Jews, mainly from Eastern Europe, who settled in Israel (see Table 4). Between the world wars, Jews

Table 4: Mean Age of Jews at Marriage1 in Europe (Persons who Subsequently Immigrated to Israel) Source: Israel Population Census, 1961, vol. 26. Table 4: Mean Age of Jews at Marriage1 in Europe (Persons who Subsequently Immigrated to Israel) Source: Israel Population Census, 1961, vol. 26.

Period of Marriage Men Women
1 At first marriage.
Up to 1961 – total 28.0 24.0
Up to 1915 24.5 21.8
1916–1925 26.7 23.6
1926–1930 27.1 23.9
1931–1935 27.5 24.2
1936–1940 28.4 24.5
1941–1945 29.2 24.2
1946–1950 29.3 24.6
1951–1955 29.9 25.3
1956–1961 29.4 25.1

in Central and Eastern Europe already had a higher marriage age than the general population of the respective countries. In the United States, Jews participated in a general reduction of the marriage age, but according to an official sample survey of 1957, their median age at first marriage was somewhat higher than among the rest of the population. It is obvious that these trends among Jews of European origin, namely the increase in the proportion never married and in marriage age, were bound to have a depressing influence on fertility levels.

A major trend in the modern marriage pattern of Diaspora Jews is the increase in out-marriage. Because of the inconsistency in the use of words like intermarriage and mixed marriage the term out-marriage will be used here for all unions in which only one partner is, or was, a Jew. The statistical information available on this topic has been scanty and unsatisfactory because of both the paucity of sources and difficulties in measurement. In relation to measurement, it should be noted that most available data reflect the religious diversity of marriage partners at a specified time while ignoring previous diversity that was overcome by change of religion on the part of one of them. Therefore, the data tend to give an underestimate of the real extent of out-marriage among Jews. There are two main types of sources: statistics of current weddings and statistics of couples in the population as ascertained by censuses or surveys. Because of the rising trend of out-marriages, their proportion is higher in the data derived from the former source.

An increase in out-marriage among Jews was observable in European countries of strong Jewish assimilation and in immigration countries overseas as early as the 19th century. Out-marriage reached considerable proportions in some larger Jewish populations of Europe between the world wars. Since World War II, a rise in the proportion of out-marriages has been noticeable among the Jews in Europe, America, South Africa, and Australia. There are, however, great differences in the actual extent of out-marriage. While it spells the disintegration of some smaller Jewish groups in Europe where most marrying Jews contract out-marriages, it used to be much more limited in America until the early 1960s (see Table 5).

Table 5: Recorded Out-Marriages of Jews (Selected Data) Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography. Table 5: Recorded Out-Marriages of Jews (Selected Data)
Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography. The data are official ones, except for those on "all existing couples" in the Nether lands and Italy which were obtained through Jewish-sponsored population surveys.

Country or City Period Per 100 Jewish
Grooms/Husbands Current Weddings Brides/Wives
1 European territories only.
Main Sources: Compilations contained in the publications listed in the Bibliography. The data are official ones, except for those on "all existing couples" in the Nether lands and Italy which were obtained through Jewish-sponsored population surveys.
Amsterdam 1926–1927 14 13
Netherlands 1951–1962 41 36
Switzerland 1951–1965 46 26
Prussia 1875–1884 5 5
Germany 1901–1904 8 7
1926–1930 27 17
Berlin 1951–1964 75 32
1876–1880 16 12
1901–1904 18 12
1925–1926 30 18
Vienna 1926–1927 12 11
1951–1964 61 29
Italy 1936–1937 35 34
Milan 1934–1936 43 33
1952–1955 52 39
Hungary 1895–1899 3 3
1925–1926 13 11
Budapest 1896–1900 7 7
1926–1927 18 16
Latvia 1925–1927 1 2
U.S.S.R.1 1924–1926 7 6
R.S.F.S.R.1 1924–1926 21 12
Ukraine 1924–1926 4 5
Belorussia 1924–1926 2 4
Canada 1926–1930 4 1
1941–1945 7 3
1951–1955 8 4
1961–1965 12 6
All Existing Couples
Netherlands 1954 30 22
Switzerland 1880 3 2
1910 5 4
1930 9 8
1950 19 10
1960 25 12
Austria 1961 36 15
Italy 1965 22 10
U.S.A. 1957 5 3
Australia 1911 28 15
1933 21 12
1961 12 6

Since then it has been on the increase there also, as shown particularly by current country-wide data from Canada, by intergenerational comparisons made from data of local Jewish community surveys in the United States, and especially by the National Jewish Population Surveys of 1970, 1990, and 2001. The proportion of recorded out-marriages was generally higher among Jewish men than Jewish women, but over time the gap has narrowed.

The basic causes of out-marriage are the growing interaction of Diaspora Jews with surrounding society, the weakening of religious links and of ethnic identity, and assimilation. There are also contributory demographic factors: the limited size of many Jewish populations, especially after the Holocaust; the increased geographical dispersion of the Jews; and distortions in the age-sex composition of Jewish populations which themselves are partly connected with their smallness as well as with the aftereffects of the Holocaust and other factors. It is noteworthy that even before the middle of the 19th century in America and in the early part of this century in Australia, a marked tendency toward out-marriage prevailed in the then small Jewish populations but its frequency greatly diminished after the arrival of large waves of new Jewish immigrants. Similarly, it is found that at present out-marriage among the Jews of a given country is more frequent in localities or regions with fewer Jews.

Out-marriage is of great importance to the demography of the Jews. It often spells demographic losses through the drop-out of out-marrying Jewish spouses or of the children of such marriages. The direct statistical information available on the balance of demographic losses and gains occasioned by out-marriage generally indicates a loss to the Jewish side in Western and Eastern Europe and in the United States. The affiliation balance may turn in favor of the Jewish community in the case of some Latin American countries such as Mexico or Venezuela where the incidence of out-marriage is quite low.

Conversions to Judaism prompted by marriage pose problems of identity in the present and following generations. Some data on ex-Jews and persons of mixed (Jewish and non-Jewish) origin are available from Germany. In relation to 100 infants born to all Jewish couples including the out-married, those with only one parent whose religion was recorded as Jewish were 13 percent in Prussia during 1925–28 and 51 percent in West Germany during 1951–64 (both figures do not include illegitimate births by Jewish women). According to the Nazi census of 1939, 307,600 persons of Jewish religion were enumerated in Germany, Austria, and the Sudeten region, but there were a total of 330,600 "Jews according to race" and another 112,600 "mixed" persons with one or two Jewish grandparents of whom only 7,200 were Jews by religion. From the accession of the Nazis to power in Germany until that census (1933–39), the number of Jews by religion had dropped to less than one-half in the enumerated areas, mainly through emigration. It may be assumed that the relative extent of emigration was smaller for the other categories of persons with one or two Jewish grandparents. It might be roughly conjectured that their number corresponded to about one-quarter of the Jews by religion at the beginning of the 1930s.

Glimpses of the traditional marriage patterns of the Jews in Asia and Africa are found in Israel statistics, particularly in the data of the 1961 population census (see Table 6). First marriages had been practically universal and occurred at an early age, especially among the girls, and remarriage was frequent, primarily because of the rather high mortality. Among the

Table 6: Marriage Patterns of Jews in Asia-Africa (Persons who Immigrated to Israel), 1961 Source: Israel Population Census, 1961, vols. 22, 32. Table 6: Marriage Patterns of Jews in Asia-Africa (Persons who Immigrated to Israel), 1961
Source: Israel Population Census, 1961, vols. 22, 32.

Country Of Birth Age at Marriage1 Percent Ever Married at age 45–493 Percent Married More than Once by Age 65+3
Mean Age Percent Married Young2
1Age at first marriage of persons who married before migration to Israel.
2Married up to age 19 for men, and up to age 17 for women.
3Per 100 persons born in Asia-Africa and living in Israel in 1961.
Asia and Africa – total 24.2 22 97 24
Thereof: Yemen, Aden 20.8 44 99 43
Iraq 26.5 15 95 16
Iran 24.3 22 98 29
Turkey 25.8 10 99 21
Egypt 26.5 7 95 15
Libya 23.5 22 97 22
Tunisia, 24.0 19 99 24
Morocco, 22.5 27 99 22
Asia and Africa – total 19.4 39 98 10
Thereof: Yemen, Aden 17.0 55 97 20
Iraq 19.8 36 97 6
Iran 18.4 48 99 12
Turkey 23.1 14 97 10
Egypt 21.8 19 95 13
Libya 19.3 37 (100) 7
Tunisia, 20.7 27 99 7
Morocco, 17.4 54 99 12

Asian-African Jews enumerated in Israel in 1961, the proportion of individuals who had married at an early age was particularly high among those married in Yemen. Yet, the Israel data also show some rise in the age of Asian and African Jews at first marriage in the period prior to the mass migration to Israel and a higher marriage age among the better educated. Out-marriages were apparently rare among the Jews in Asia and Africa. In Mandatory Palestine and Israel, virtually all Jews have been in the habit of marrying, including those of European origin. The marriage age of the Jews from Asia and Africa went up, especially among women; the marriage age of the Jews from Europe, on the other hand, somewhat dropped and a tendency clearly emerged toward standardization of the respective patterns of all Jews in Israel. Out-marriage was rare in Israel until the arrival of a substantial number of non-Jewish immigrants in the framework of the major exodus from the former Soviet Union after 1989.

Data on Jewish divorces can be obtained from statistics reflecting current registration of such events or from information supplied by censuses and surveys on the composition of a Jewish population according to marital status. Sources of the latter kind usually show a higher proportion of divorced persons among women than among men, because of the greater tendency of men to remarry. In comparing the frequency of divorce among Jews and the general population of a country in the Diaspora, the religious orientation of the latter and prevailing legal arrangements must be taken into account. The Roman Catholic Church does not permit divorce, whereas it is not infrequent in Muslim societies. In some countries a status of separation is recognized. For an assessment of the relative frequency of divorce among the Diaspora Jews of European origin, their urbanization and socioeconomic stratification must be taken into consideration. The data available point to an increase in divorce in the Jewish populations of Europe and America during the 20th century but there were considerable differences between various countries in the actual proportion of divorced Jews. There also were marked differences between countries in the relative frequency of divorce among the Jews and among the general population, respectively. In Canada, an increase in the proportion of divorced Jews occurred from 1931 to 1961, and the Jews there had somewhat higher proportions of divorces than the general population. In the United States, considerable differences emerged in the extent of divorce among Jews according to the data available from local studies. The overall prevalence of divorce was lower among Jews than among the total U.S. population, but over time Jews tended to close that gap. Divorce was not rare among the Jews in Asia and Africa.


Data on birth and on fertility can be derived either from current statistics, based on registration of the births that take place, or from censuses and surveys. In the latter case, retrospective questions may be asked about the children born to each woman. Failing such a specific inquiry, the sex-age distribution obtained from a census or population survey permits calculation of the "fertility ratio" also called "child-woman ratio" which is the ratio of the number of young children alive to the number of women of reproductive age. For improved measurement, child mortality up to the date of enumeration is accounted for. The average number of children living in each family is a rough indication obtainable from censuses. The ratio between the number of 0–4-year-old children and that of 5–9-year-old children shows recent changes in the frequency of births.

In Europe, the birth rate of the Jews was, on the whole, high in the past. As early as the first half of the 19th century, however, birth rates found among the Jews were somewhat lower than those among the general population in some countries and cities of Central Europe. In large parts of Eastern Europe, the birth rate of the Jews continued to be very high and similar to that of the respective general populations until near the end of the 19th century.

The Jews preceded the general population of their countries of residence in the reduction of natality and in the adoption of family planning through birth control methods. The reasons for this differential may be the above-mentioned greater concentration of Jews in those social strata which, in general, reduced births more rapidly such as the urban, were better educated, engaged in white-collar occupations; the fact that mortality of the Jews went down more rapidly causing Jewish families to experience the economic pressure exercised by the survival of more children at an earlier date; possibly also the greater concern of Jews for the proper upbringing of their children, as well as the eagerness of Jews for upward social mobility, and other related factors.

The decrease in Jewish births was a gradual process. In some countries, however, it proceeded rather quickly. In Europe, this development spread, on the whole, from west to east. As early as the eve of World War I, there were cities in Europe where the Jewish birth rate had dropped so low that it was barely able to balance the current deaths. This situation intensified in the 1920s and became still more acute and widespread during the general slump in births in the 1930s when the economic and political crisis was aggravated for the Jews in Europe by ever more menacing manifestations of antisemitism. In North America as well, the high fertility of the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe quickly gave way to drastic birth limitation. Retrospective fertility data, subsequently obtained in the United States and Canada, show that Jewish women who had spent their most fertile years during the 1930s and early 1940s had borne, on the average, less than two children – not enough for demographic replacement. Then the Shoah overtook European Jewry; births became rare and most young children perished.

After World War II, Jews in Western Europe, America, and Australia participated in the "baby boom" characteristic of those years. The survivors in Europe had the special reason of wishing to reconstitute their families. However, this upsurge of natality among the Jews was rather short-lived. In the United States by the late 1950s and in Western Europe by the early 1960s it was followed by another decline in births. In Eastern Europe, barely any postwar birth-rate recovery emerged. The ensuing data from all over the world show that natality and fertility were lower among Jews than among the general population of their respective countries of residence. This can be seen from decreasing absolute figures and crude birth rates, as well as from the age breakdown of Jewish children (the ratio of 0–4-year-olds to 5–9-year-olds), according to censuses and surveys. It is true that the age structure of the Jewish adults was unfavorable to current births, because the prospective mothers belonged to the comparatively small cohorts born during the great slump in births of the 1930s. But when the age composition turned to be more favorable to Jewish natality for a while as the comparatively large cohorts born during the "baby boom" around 1950 were reaching procreative age, the expected rise in the Jewish birth rate did only partially materialize. Fertility indicators which are less affected by the actual age composition, also pointed to a decline in Jewish fertility. Indeed, birth rates and fertility levels also registered declines in the general population of many technologically advanced countries during the 1950s or 1960s, and even more significantly during the 1970s. Low fertility levels, anticipated by Jewish populations, lead nearer to, or aggravate, insufficient demographic replacement all across developed countries.

There are variations in the actual levels of fertility and natality of Jews throughout their global geographical dispersion. Yet these levels are universally rather low when assessed as a source for the growth, or even for the mere maintenance, of Jewish population size. The present low fertility of the Jews in most Diaspora countries is a major cause of concern for the demographic future of large sections of the Jewish people.

Among Jews of European origin in Mandatory Palestine and Israel, there was a rapid decline in fertility in the 1920s and 1930s to a low at about 1940. Yet the crude birth rate remained substantial because of the comparatively young age composition of this immigrant population. There, too, a "baby boom" was followed by a renewed drop in fertility; however, fertility remained above replacement level. It is noteworthy that the European Jews who immigrated after the establishment of the State of Israel increased their fertility from its level abroad, which was quite insufficient for demographic replacement, to a level which, though moderate, was sufficient for this end.

The Jews of Asia and Africa used to have high fertility in their countries of residence. Retrospective data from Israel on fertility of immigrants abroad prior to immigration show that women gave birth to six or seven children on the average. Though differentiation of fertility according to educational level of women had already set in, the great majority of women had not attended school or had reached only low educational attainment and were very prolific. Jews in Egypt and Turkey had markedly lower fertility, just as they differed in socioeconomic status from other Asian-African Jews. The overwhelming majority of the Jews from Asia and Africa moved to Israel or to France and other countries of Europe and America. Israel data show a rapid fertility decline throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s under the influence of the new surroundings, and similar developments took place in other countries where the socioeconomic status of Jewish migrants from Asia and Africa was generally higher than that of their peers who had moved to Israel.

Illegitimate births, insofar as statistical data are available, were on the whole less frequent among Jews than among the respective general populations. However, percentages of such births recorded from Central Europe in the period between the world wars and again in recent decades were not negligible. An altogether different matter was the lack of an officially recognized status for many religious Jewish marriages in some parts of Eastern Europe, which led to the offspring of such unions being registered by the authorities as "illegitimate."

Natural Increase

In the past, mortality, and especially child mortality, was so high as to almost offset high fertility; as a consequence, natural increase was small and population growth was slow. On the whole, this may also be presumed to have been the situation of the Jews before the modern demographic evolution. As mortality declined, while fertility continued to be high or at least moderately high, considerable natural increase was generated. This was the demographic situation of most of European Jewry during a great part of the 19th century. East European Jewry, which adopted widespread birth control comparatively late, displayed natural increase on such a substantial scale that its numbers rose from about five and a half million to seven million during 1880–1914, despite the emigration of more than 2,500,000 persons overseas or to Western Europe. As the Jews had preceded the general population of their countries of residence in the reduction of mortality, they enjoyed, for a considerable time, relatively higher natural increase.

When the subsequent fertility decline among Jews became more acute, their natural increase dwindled and became smaller than that of the corresponding general populations. Extreme instances were Jewish populations in Central Europe that already had a yearly surplus of deaths over births from some time in the 1920s before the accession of the Nazis to power. In the United States and Canada in the 1930s, Jewish fertility was insufficient for demographic replacement in the long run.

The Shoah liquidated not only about one-third of the Jewish people, but also had aftereffects that were highly detrimental to the further demographic development of the survivors. Distortions in the age-sex distribution and the reduced size of the Jewish communities extant in Europe or scattered through migration to other regions of the Diaspora enhanced the chances of out-marriages with their consequent demographic losses to the Jewish people.

After the short-lived Jewish "baby-boom" following World War II, the growth prospects of Jewish Diaspora populations became far from encouraging. In Central and Western Europe all the evidence shows an outright deficit in the balance of births and deaths. For Eastern Europe including the Soviet Union, direct evidence and statistics available on the age composition of immigrants to Israel show that fertility was long below replacement level. As regards the Jews in the United States and Canada, a decline in births since the late 1950s and early 1960s is clearly documented. It is evident that the rate of natural increase cannot be very considerable. This is also the conclusion from data available for South Africa and Australia.

The small natural increase, or even decrease, of Diaspora Jews is the more disquieting from the viewpoint of the demographic future of the Jewish people. Since World War II, and more especially since the 1970s when an unmistakable tendency to increasing out-marriages and some withdrawals emerged, a small natural increase in a Jewish population became insufficient to maintain Jewish population size irrespective of migratory influences. Aggravating circumstances were low fertility; advanced aging; out-marriages and withdrawals. Only by viewing all of these negative factors together, is a realistic picture obtained of the demographic situation and perspectives of most Jewish Diaspora communities in Europe, North America, and other overseas countries.

Until mass emigration following Israel's independence in 1948, the Jews in Asia and Africa were in a stage of rapid and accelerating demographic expansion. Exceptions to this generalization were presented by the Yemenites, whose mortality was still too high to leave much room for natural increase, and on the other hand, the Jews in Turkey and Egypt, whose fertility had already been reduced considerably. The first effect of migration to Israel and to France was a reduction in mortality, which boosted natural increase for a while; however, the fertility decline, which soon set in, operated in the opposite direction. While the transfer of many Jews from Asia and Africa to Israel, France, etc., raised the average fertility and natural increase among the Jewish population in the receiving countries, it tended to lower the fertility and natural increase of the Jewish people as a whole.

Into the 21st Century

Over the last quarter of the 20th century, distinct erosion in conventional marriage patterns among Jews reflected similar general trends among developed Western societies. Propensities to marry significantly diminished. An increase in unmarried couples living together overwhelmingly composed by one Jewish and one non-Jewish partner in the Diaspora, did not compensate for fewer and later marriages. Divorce rates increased and tended to approach the higher rates of non-Jews. In Israel such trends were more conservative, but they could be observed too, as demonstrated by the presence of over one million non-married individuals among the adult Jewish population around 2005.

Among Jews who married since the 1990s, in the United States 50 percent or more had a non-Jewish partner, between 35 and 45 percent did in France and the U.K., and higher percentages approaching 70 and 80 percent did in the FSU and other Eastern European countries. The differential frequency of out-marriages of Jewish men and women tended to disappear, equalling the higher levels previously recorded for men. The majority of children of out-marriages were not identified as Jews. During the 1990s, similar relatively low proportions of children of out-marriages (about 20 percent) were identified by the respective parents as Jewish in Russia (with rather underdeveloped Jewish community resources), as in the United States (with highly developed Jewish resources). In 2001, that percent had risen to about one-third in the U.S. As a compound consequence, the configuration of Jewish households was characterized by an increasing share different from the conventional nuclear family inclusive of two Jewish parents living with their Jewish children. In the Diaspora this comprised an ever smaller minority of all Jewish households.

In a general context of low and declining death rates, life expectancy at birth surpassed 80 years for women and 75 for men. Fertility was quite stable among Jews in Israel, while it turned to be about one half lower among the rest of Jewish communities worldwide. The latter reflected or even often anticipated the general decline of fertility in the more developed countries. Jews in Israel were an exception, becoming with 2.6–2.7 children on average the population with the highest fertility among developed nations. Jews from similar countries of origin who migrated to Israel or to Europe ended up adopting the quite different social norms and behaviors on fertility of their countries of absorption. In Israeli society, community was an important intervening factor in fertility trends resulting in larger families than could be found among Jews with similar backgrounds that moved to other countries. Cultural, religious, and community related determinants of higher fertility in Israel led to a unique surplus of natural increase and helped to maintain a comparatively young age composition among the Jewish population. The number of Jewish births in Israel was higher than the number of Jewish deaths by over 45,000 in 1990, by over 58,000 in 2001, and by over 67,000 in 2004.

In the Diaspora low fertility was the main determinant of rapid Jewish population aging. This in turn significantly contributed to a negative balance between Jewish births and deaths. Among the better documented examples, in the Russian Republic the number of Jewish deaths exceeded the number of Jewish births by over 10,000 in 1988, and by 7,600 in 2000 among a greatly diminished Jewish population. In Germany, the excess of Jewish deaths over Jewish births was over 300 in 1990, and had grown nearly over threefold in 2004 while the Jewish population itself had grown by three thanks to the steady inflow of immigrants from the FSU. In the U.K., each year the number of Jewish deaths surpassed by over 1,000 the number of Jewish births. The spiral of low fertility, aging, and partial erosion of the younger generation through the non-affiliation with Judaism of a large portion of the children of out-marriage foreshadowed significant further changes in the demographic profile of world Jewry.

While the world's developing countries continue to experience fast population growth rates and also the populations of many of the technologically advanced countries recorded substantial growth – increasingly due to international migration rather than to natural increase – the Jewish Diaspora at the beginning of the 21st century was in a rather precarious demographic situation. Thanks to the persisting natural increase in Israel, world Jewish population kept close to zero population growth.

See also *Demography; *Migrations; *Population; *Statistics .


Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.