MARRIAGE, FAMILIES, AND FERTILITY

THE POPULATION OF ISRAEL 5755 / 1995

Marriage and Families

The predisposition to marry is relatively strong in Israel. Traditional marriage patterns, especially the custom of marrying off young women at a very early age, affected the marriage patterns of Jews of Asian/African origin, certain groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Muslims. The marriage customs brought to Israel by secular Jews of European origin are vastly different. Over time, the marriage patterns of Jews, with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox, have tended to converge. Among the Muslims the age of marriage was rather low until recently, when an uptrend in marriage age became evident. The Christians exhibit lower marriage rates because of the relatively high proportion of clergy. Recent immigrants have showed an above-average predisposition to marry, causing a substantial increase in marriages during periods of mass immigration. The phenomenon of very early marriages has virtually disappeared since the 1950s, when the legal minimum age for marriage was set at seventeen.

Since the 1970s, the marriage rate has dropped substantially and the age upon marriage has risen. This is traceable mainly to demographic factors

(contraction of the marriage market), lifestyle changes (career concerns, the growing importance of higher education, individualism), and the relative weakening of the institution of marriage in Israel, in a manner similar to trends in the West. The proportion of marriages that end in divorce has increased, especially in the early 1980s (Table 4), but it has leveled off since then at roughly 1% of the number of marriages per year.

Concurrently, the number of births out of wedlock has been rising. Among the Jews, the share of such births increased from 0.8 to 1.5 between 1971-73 and the late 1980s.

Housing Indicators

The structure of households has changed substantially over the years (Table 5). Until the early 1980s, the number of households with one or two persons increased vigorously and the proportion of households with seven or more persons decreased significantly. Several factors contributed to these changes: the predisposition to marry at a later age, the tendency of young adults to move out of their parents’ homes, the tendency of young couples to establish their own households under the influence of a government assistance policy for young couples, falling fertility rates, and an increase in the share of the elderly (chiefly widows) who live alone.

Fertility and Abortions

From the 1950s to the early 1980s, the fertility rates of all population groups declined and the differences in rates between the groups narrowed

(Tables 6 and 7). In 1985, the total fertility of the entire population was slightly over 3. A slight downtrend became evident in the early 1990s, evidently because of the low fertility rates of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Some of the factors that contribute to fertility trends pertain to the entire population; others pertain to specific sectors. Among Jews of Asian/African origin, Muslims, Druse, and Christians, the decrease in fertility may be viewed as a transition to modern demographic patterns that began with a decrease in mortality rates and continued with a decline in fertility.

These changes were caused by an increase in education levels, intensified urbanization, modern lifestyles (especially secular), and access to contraception. According to a 1988 fertility survey, 70% of married women used contraceptive techniques regularly, and 67% of these women used modern methods. The growing share of working women has also contributed to the downturn in fertility rates.

The fertility rates of Jews of European/American origin decreased earlier and increased slightly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. From a plateau of 2.66 in 1985-89, the rate declined to 2.13 in 1993, mainly because of the low fertility rate of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Without their impact, the fertility rate would have been much higher. Since the mid-1970s, the fertility rates of young age cohorts of Asian/African origin have been converging with those of their European/American ethnic counterparts. Another manifestation of demographic rapprochement within the Jewish population is the substantial upturn in inter-ethnic marriages. While the impact of the ethnic factor on fertility rates has been diminishing, the spouses’ degree of religiosity has been very important in this respect.

The fertility rates of Muslims are much higher than those of Jews, although the massive disparity of a decade or two ago has narrowed. Christians have lower fertility rates than Muslims because of their low marriage rate and relatively high level of education. The fertility rates of Christians (also influenced by non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union) have approached the minimum population-replacement level

(2.1) (Table 6).

Another factor that contributes to the fertility rate is the number of abortions. The Mandate-era penal regulations prescribed severe sanctions for women who terminated their pregnancies by abortion and for any person who helped them do so. Israel kept these regulations on the books until 1966, although they were not fully enforced. In that year, the sanctions against the women themselves were abolished but those against people who helped them were toughened. Charges in connection with abortion were quite rare at this time, and the illegal abortion market functioned unhindered. In 1977, new legislation legalized abortion only if approved by an official pregnancy-termination board and if performed by a gynecologist in a licensed medical facility. The approval criteria were the patient’s age

(under 17, the minimum marriage age, or over age 40), pregnancy out of wedlock or caused by rape or incest, fear of a genetic defect in the fetus, risk to the mother’s health, and social hardship. The last-mentioned clause was revoked in 1980.

In 1980-92, roughly 16,000 legal abortions were performed each year, or 15 per 1,000 women of childbearing age (Table 8). Nearly half of these abortions were authorized for medical reasons. Legal abortions for non-medical reasons are believed to have depressed fertility rates in Israel by 7%. The number of illegal abortions is estimated at 2,000- 5,000 per year.

                        Table 4: Family Traits (Jews)        |  % single  |1st marriage|             | % couples |      |            |  per 1,000 |             | divorcing |      |            |  per year  |             |  per year |       | Aged 20-24 | Aged 45-49 | Aged 15-49  |           |   %     |% one- |  Married  | births  |person Year | Women  Men | Women Men  |Single Single|  5    10  | out of  |house-      |            |            | women  men  | yrs   yrs | wedlock |holds  1970 | 47.1  76.8 | 2.0   3.9  | 112.9  79.9 | 4.9  8.1  |   0.8   | 13.0 1980 | 52.5  82.8 | 2.7   3.3  |  98.1  70.6 | 6.1  9.7  |   1.0   | 14.8 1985 | 54.4  83.9 | 3.1   3.2  |  83.7  60.1 | 6.1   -   |   1.1   | 16.5 1990 | 62.0  87.4 | 4.1   2.8  |  71.1  53.0 |   -   -   |   1.6   | 16.8          Table 5: Household Size  General Population (Pct.)  ======= Year        1              2            3-6         7 or more  1957       7.9           18.8           62.4           10.9 1970      12.4           21.9           54.3           11.4 1975      13.1           22.6           53.7           10.5 1982      15.0           21.9           54.3            8.8 1992      15.1           20.4           56.4            8.1        Table 6: Total Fertility by Population Group, 1965-1992           |       |       |      Jews from      |       |      |         | Total | Total Muslims|Chris-| Druse         |popula-| Jews  |Israel| Asia/|Europe/|       |tians |   Year  | tion  |       |      |Africa|America|       |      |  1965-69 | 3.83  | 3.36  | 2.83 | 4.35 | 2.59  | 9.22  | 4.26 | 7.30 1970-74 | 3.80  | 3.28  | 3.05 | 3.92 | 2.83  | 8.47  | 3.65 | 7.25 1975-79 | 3.47  | 3.00  | 2.91 | 3.40 | 2.80  | 7.25  | 3.12 | 6.93 1980-84 | 3.13  | 2.80  | 2.82 | 3.09 | 2.76  | 5.54  | 2.41 | 5.40 1985-89 | 3.07  | 2.79  | 2.82 | 3.14 | 2.66  | 4.70  | 2.49 | 4.19 1990-92 | 2.95  | 2.63  | 2.73 | 3.30 | 2.14  | 4.68  | 2.31 | 3.86        Table 7: Crude Birth Rates by Population Group, 1965-1992     Year     Total      Jews    Muslims  Christians  Druse  1965-69     25.4      22.5      51.0      30.4      43.6 1970-74     27.4      24.3      49.5      26.9      42.7 1975-79     26.4      23.6      44.5      24.5      41.8 1980-84     23.9      21.8      37.0      20.4      35.8 1985-89     22.8      20.6      34.9      21.5      30.8 1990-92     21.7      18.9      37.0      20.3      30.2        Table 8: Legal Abortions and Births (in Selected Periods)                                        |         Selected periods    Annual Average                    |                                      |1980-1983  1987-1989  1990-1992  Abortions                            | 15,400     15,250     15,900 Births                               | 95,800    100,100    105,400 Abortions per 100 births             |  16.1       15.2       15.1 Abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 |  18.3       15.6       15.0