Thursday, August 31, 2006

So, Numbers Are a Matter of...Numbers

Ha'Aretz is astounded.

Two months ago, Haaretz highlighted a significant decline in the fertility rate among Muslims in Israel, following 15 years of treading water. CBS data, published this week, indicates that this is no mere decline - it is an outright nosedive.

The most important statistic used to measure fertility is the general fertility rate (GFR) - that is, the number of live births that a woman in a certain segment of the population is expected to produce during her lifetime. The average GFR of Muslim women in Israel remained 7.4 children per woman from 1985-2000. But CBS statistics published this week indicate that the rate in 2005 declined to only four children per woman, a drop of 18 percent (compared to 2.7 children per Jewish woman in Israel).

This downturn, from 4.5 to only four children per woman, mainly took place from 2003-2005: Half a child less in two years.

What made these years so significant? In June, 2003, substantial cuts in child welfare benefits provided each additional child only NIS 140 per month.

What happened since 2005? Calculations made by the American-Israel Demographic Research Group indicate that, in early 2006, the GFR among Arab-Israelis had already dropped to 3.7 - that is one whole child less than in 2000 and only one child more than the GFR in the Jewish population.

But the CBS provided Haaretz with far more startling and fascinating, geographically-segmented statistics: The GFR among Arabs in Israel's southern district, mainly Bedouin, plunged from nine children per woman in 2003 to 7.6 children, in only two years - one and a half children less. In the northern district, the GFR among Arabs stands at only three children (but this statistic includes many Christian Arabs).

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