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Samson Shrugged?

Israel’s *other* demographic timebomb

Dan Klein
April 23, 2012

Thank goodness housing in Israel is so cheap, or Friend-of-The Scroll Amir Mizroch’s look at a newly released demographic stats might be chilling. The study projects that by 2030 (18 years!) Israel, which has the developed world’s highest fertility rate, will grow from a population of under eight million to 11 million. That’s going to be 450 folks per kilometer, the highest population density in the developed world.

As cute as that sounds, prepare for crisis bells. The big problem is that Israel’s economy can’t support the growing ratio of work force versus dependents. The working-aged population is shrinking while the number of dependents (people under 15 and over 65 is growing) grows. We have this issue in the Unite States (although not as starkly) because Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age. In Israel, it’s worse: there are more people over 65 and more people under 15. Compounding the problem is that the youngins and the new replacement workforce comes primarily from the Haredim, who, as Mizroch points out, often opt out of working (as do Arab women, another expanding group). It’s Ayn Rand’s nightmare of makers and takers.

The scary punch line is that within two decades every working-age Israeli will be supporting a whole other person—and that’s assuming that Haredi and Arab women can be convinced to take up a secular curriculum that will make them employable. Otherwise, the workers keeping Israel from economic collapse will largely come from the shrinking and increasingly burdened population of secular and traditional religious workers—who might just feel that “my brother’s keeper” only goes so far.