March 10, 2005

Jewish Demographics

Kantor alerted me to this article by Spengler. It's definitely worth a read. Excerpt:

Animals breed by instinct, but faith in the future is a precondition for the reproduction of human society. Wounded animals crawl into a hole and die; humiliated cultures turn sterile and pass out of memory. Germany eschewed democracy for a reason, believing that its hope for survival lay in collective identity. In light of the facts, one might say that this belief was not incorrect, but merely evil and tragic. I do not believe that the Islamic world, either, will succumb to democratization along American lines without an upheaval on the scale of World War II.

I intend no criticism of Allied war methods. On the contrary: even the Jewish diarist Viktor Klemperer, with little access to information, knew that military logic made Dresden an inevitable target as German troops withdrew to Saxony from the east. Nuclear bombardment of Japan may have been a more humane alternative than a conventional invasion. The consequences of these actions were tragic in the true sense of the term, namely that they could not be avoided.

In any case, the former Axis powers and the former Soviet Union and its satellites occupy every one of the top positions on the death row of demographics. I refer to the United Nations' report "World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision".

At the top of the death list is Ukraine, whose population the UN projects to fall from 46 million to 26 million between 2005 and 2050. Democracy may have triumphed in Victor Yushchenko's Orange Revolution, but a generation from now only half as many Ukrainians will be around to talk about it.

Given the rate at which Ukraine exports women of childbearing age, that may be a special case, but by 2050 Bulgaria will lose more than a third, and Russia itself more than a fifth of its population. Japan (-12%) and Germany (-5%) do not look quite as far along the road to extinction, but the following half-century will do for them. By 2100, Deutsche Bank projects, only 25 million Germans will remain of the 82 million alive today.

None of this would have surprised the Nazis, who believed with paranoid fervor that Germany's national existence was in danger. One can hear the shade of Adolf Hitler saying, "You see, that is just what I anticipated and wanted to avoid! I warned the Germans that their national existence was in danger, and now you see that decadent democracy has finished us off."

What the "decadent democracies" of the United States and England finished off was the delusion of German racial superiority and chosenness as a master race. Hitler wanted Germany to be a new Eternal People, as I have written elsewhere (What the Jews won't tell you, November 4, 2003), and for that reason became obsessed with eliminating the Chosen People of Christian scripture, namely the Jews. The trouble is that Germany's desire to reproduce died with its delusions.

While I think that Spengler is right, as far as he goes, I would say there is more to this story. I don't think it will end the way he implies. For example, what's written above could also be said about Jewish demographics in the US. Currently, Jewish fertility is way below replacement rate, and taking into account intermarriage (which is around 50%) you get a fertility of about 1. By this prediction, Jewish births in the US will fall by 50% every generation. There are about 5 million Jews in the US today, so by this logic, in three generations, the population will fall below a million.

A scary thing to anyone who cares about a Jewish future. Fortunately, it won't happen. The mistake in the story above is to assume that the Jewish population is homogeneous. Specifically, what it ignores is the fact that about 10% of American Jews are observant, and their fertility rate is about 4.5, with essentially zero intermarriage, though a small number cease to be observant. Assume that 10% become non-observant (I think this is a vast overestimation - the real number is probably around 5% - and this ignores the number who become observant, which probably balances them out), and that they all intermarry (obviously absurd), which still leaves us with an effective fertility of 4. Meaning that the observant population doubles every generation.

Let's see how all this plays out:

Generation Non-observant Observant Observant % Total
1 4,500,000 500,000 10.00 5,000,000
2 2,250,000 1,000,000 30.77 3,250,000
3 1,125,000 2,000,000 64.00 3,125,000
4 562,500 4,000,000 87.67 4,562,500
5 281,250 8,000,000 96.60 8,281,250

Clearly, these numbers are a simplification. But I think they give a clear idea as to the trends. Assuming a generation to be 25 years, this projects 100 years into the future - a lot can change in 100 years, and will! Also, even keeping current trends steady, there will be more non-observant Jews than this table predicts (remember the simplifications in my assumptions).

In fact, the trend that this table predicts is already clear: I have seen it happen in my own lifetime. When I was growing up in Boston, about a generation ago, there were only two kosher restaurants, and observant Jews were so rare (even in the Jewish neighborhood where I grew up) that they were almost invisible. Now, when I go back to the old neighborhood I see observant Jews everywhere - and new observant neighborhoods have sprouted up elsewhere as well. (The nature of Judaism requires observant Jews to live in well defined neighborhoods, see here.) I stopped keeping track of kosher restaurants, there are so many of them.

While I am familiar with what's going on in the Jewish community, I think that something similar is happening in the US in general, and across the world. I have talked about it before, here.

UPDATE: Wes Meltzer responds. He thinks that observant Jews will become non-observant in the future at the same rate that they have in the past:

I am not going to dispute the fact that the ranks of the Orthodox will grow, as a consequence of their lack of birth control and intermarriage. But I don’t see it taking on the catastrophic numbers that so many commentators see. As the children of the Orthodox become well-paid doctors and lawyers and consultants like their parents want, most of them will feel the same pressure to fit in that my grandparents did, and they, too, will find themselves less observant. And particularly they’ll want to use birth control, so they can spend more per child of their new, high income on fewer children. Which means that not only are they more likely to be less observant, but that they’ll join the trend toward fewer children, too.

Wes has a very interesting blog, but clearly he has little experience with the observant Jewish community. They are already "well-paid doctors and lawyers and consultants" - yet show no signs of assimilation, and if anything their fertility is increasing. Clearly, something has changed, I talk about it here. (I admit, though, that the numbers above probably underestimate the future numbers of the non-observant Jews. Since my intent was to disprove the hypothesis that US Jews will disappear, I purposely underestimated wherever I could, for simplicity.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at March 10, 2005 11:12 AM
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I could never write anything this clever :)
I've heard from several others that intermarriage in the disaspora is actually 60% though, which is what I tend to call a "massacre", without people even realising it.

Posted by: Hatshepsut at March 10, 2005 07:50 PM Permalink

Oh and thanks for your comment. It's great to have someone with knowledge to correct me like that! I removed that post along with another one though.

Posted by: Hatshepsut at March 10, 2005 07:51 PM Permalink

It's the other way around: Europe's fertility is declining not because Hitler lost, but precisely because Hitler WON the war of ideas.

Hitler set out to strip away Judeo-Christian morality and return Germany to its earlier, pagan roots. He succeeded: Western Europe is mostly post-Christian and secular. The communists did the same for East Europe, stamping out "the opiate of the people".

The modern pagan feels him/herself to be a lonely point of fleeting awareness floating on that random fragment of matter on which - by chance - life evolved. Mass media and the nanny state have provided comfort while obliterating individual worth. What motivation does this worldview offer for the hard, selfless tasks of marriage and parenting?

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, in his classic work Michtav Me'Eliyahu (beatifully translated into English as Strive for Truth), distinguishes between those who are, at their core, givers - and those who are takers. Jewish monotheism leads to a conclusion that life is a gift, and that giving is the ultimate good.

The pagan world was/is the world of grasping, exploitative takers - who even try to bargain with and outsmart their "gods". Their is precious little reason, in this worldview, to forego one's own indulgence for the greater good.

The Greeks and Romans also faced dwindling populations in their decadent phases. Now Europe - having returned to its prechristian roots - is doing the same.

Faith in the future is, indeed, a precondition for the reproduction of human society. Modern, atomized neo-pagan society provides none.

Ben-David

Posted by: Ben-David at March 10, 2005 11:33 PM Permalink

Ben-David: I think you're pretty close to agreeing with Spengler. From the link:

In 1914 Europe's soldiers still fought under the illusion of a God that favored their nation. Germany fought World War II under the banner of revived paganism. For today's Europeans, there is no consolation, neither the old pagan continuity of national culture, nor the Christian continuity into the hereafter.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at March 10, 2005 11:51 PM Permalink

David, judaism is the most robust of Error Correcting Codes. Otherwise there would be no jews today. ;)

Posted by: jinnderella at March 11, 2005 07:31 PM Permalink

What I'd like to see is a Sailer-esque historical study of fertility rates, sorted by political stance, of Israeli Jews.

Of course we all know what the trends are, but it would be interesting to see how important a factor demographics have actually been ( compared to other factors ) in determining political developments in Israel in the last three decades.

Posted by: Melnorme at March 11, 2005 09:36 PM Permalink

Welcome back.

Posted by: Neha at March 11, 2005 11:03 PM Permalink

Most important to remember is that Jews don't follow "nature." Statistics and predictions don't work with us. Remember how in the early and mid 20th century all the experts, sociologists, statisticians predicted beyond a doubt that religious Jews were a dying breed. In http://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/2005/02/rabbi-wolf-zatzl.html I have a link that shows today's situation in NY. Sorry I don't have the patience to search for the link itself.

Posted by: muse at March 12, 2005 08:58 PM Permalink

i know that many of the people on this blog are from a judaic background, but i have to say the characterization of "paganism" is exceedingly facile.

for example:

The pagan world was/is the world of grasping, exploitative takers - who even try to bargain with and outsmart their "gods". Their is precious little reason, in this worldview, to forego one's own indulgence for the greater good.

if you were never pagan yourself i think this seems a bit much in terms of psychological extra-introspection.

as a point of fact:

1) the more religious nations of southern europe (italy, spain) have the lowest birthrates, as opposed to secular france or sweden.

2) in africa, the converts to christianity tend to have far lower birthrates than uncoverted pagans.

3) in india, converts to christianity tend to have lower birthrates than the surrounding hindu population.

4) in south korea, christians have the lowest birthrates.

this is not to say that christianity causes low birthrates, rather, in all the situations above, christianity, a belief in a monotheistic god, correlates strongly with acceptance of western modes of life and expectations which often result in a decrease in fertility.

also, let me point out that between 300 & 400 the roman world converted to christianity, but they were conquered by barely christianized, often pagan, german peoples. christianity did not entail a demographic rebound (though for reasons offered by sociologist rodney stark christianity might have resulted in greater birthrates vis-a-vi roman pagans). the emigration by vikings from scandinavia was likely caused by overpopulation, this, from a people who believed in a destruction of the world and the gods.

sorry if i went off ;)

david makes a good point, which i agree with overall, but i read an article in moment magazine which suggests a far higher than 10% defection from orthodox judaism in the united states. barry kosmin at CUNY would probably know the exact numbers

p.s. in 1935 95% of germans were tax paying members of a protestant or roman catholic church. their demographic decline had started in the previous generation.

Posted by: razib at March 13, 2005 09:07 PM Permalink

also, the article from moment was from the fall of 1995, if people have copies on hand. the demographic metastability of judaism was the cover story.

Posted by: razib at March 13, 2005 09:09 PM Permalink

also, let me add that the birthrate of the CIS (post soviet union that is) nations has declined greatly since about 1980 with the fall of communism. concurrently there has been a revival of religion, mostly in christian and islamic form, throughout the CIS (kalmykia has re-buddhaized itself though). the two correlations need not be connected (the decline in birthrate could be due to a very, very, sharp drop among non-religious people only, even though they are declinig as a frequency of the population), but, i suspect if the two numbers did track, some people would point to this as evidence that "paganism" saps the will to procreate.

my point is that i wish people would rely on broad, robust and plentiful data-sets on all levels of organization (individual -> social) as opposed their preconceptions on the psychology of other groups/individuals. remember that there was a time when people would naturally assert that somethings were part of the "jew mentality," as if they knew what the day-to-day experience of jewishness was through their distant and distorted lens of the outsider.

Posted by: razib at March 13, 2005 09:16 PM Permalink

David, judaism is the most robust of Error Correcting Codes. Otherwise there would be no jews today. ;)

what about the armenians? though their religion has changed (from paganism to monophysite christianity), it seems their language and likely their genetic continuity has been maintained for 2500 years, just like the jews. i am curious if they are as admixed as the jewish diaspora with local populations....

Posted by: razib at March 13, 2005 09:19 PM Permalink

OK, razib, one of the most robust of ECC's. You're right, if you are considering just birthrate, i haven't done the stats. shameless! ;)

And, i dunno, i suppose i am a neopagan myself. I do do sometimes consider conversion to judaism, because I am basically just ravished by the elegant and powerful simplicity of jewish teachings and scriptures, and out of pure admiration for the exceptional human beings that are my Jewish friends.

But as a pagan, i worship fertility first and formost. It is probably the Ur-religion, the most basic religion of all. I think razib's argument has legs.

Posted by: jinnderella at March 13, 2005 09:55 PM Permalink

I do do sometimes consider conversion to judaism, because I am basically just ravished by the elegant and powerful simplicity of jewish teachings and scriptures, and out of pure admiration for the exceptional human beings that are my Jewish friends

simplicity? do you consider the mishnah and gemarra not scriptures because of their commentarial nature? perhaps you should convert to karaitism ;)

Posted by: razib at March 13, 2005 10:06 PM Permalink

David, umm, weren't the Greeks pagans? ;)

razib, i am ignorant-- what is karaitism? and where is my inspiration in live models? I don't think i know any karaitists. ;)

Posted by: jinnderella at March 13, 2005 10:14 PM Permalink

karaites reject the oral tradition encapsulated in the talmud. in other words, they stick to the core of the torah...which i still wouldn't call simple.

christianity in its inception was simple i think because of its rejection of the law and emphasis on a few broad principles, but soon enough greek philosophy and roman government added a layer of complexity that made it no different than rabbinical judaism in my opinion when it comes to baroque elegance.

Posted by: razib at March 13, 2005 10:23 PM Permalink

Hello to all,

I agree with the analisys of David about the survivance of orthodox Jews, but it doesn´t make me happy, because what I like are precisely the non-observant ones. So, probably Jerusalem will persist but, what about Tel Aviv?

Well, I am non-religious, so I don´t believe in a God that created the world for the good of his creatures, and, under my materialistic cosmovision it is perfectly possible that the most advanced and free societies of the world were also unable to survive.

That´s the weigth of materialism: that there is no God to assure that good will prevail.

Anyway, perhaps transhumanism could be the solution as was proposed by Houellebeq in "Atomized".

Posted by: Kantor at March 13, 2005 10:26 PM Permalink

I disagree with razib about the elegance of cristitanity:

The fact that Cristianism is a full cosmovision where there is no room for disagreement makes it far more simple than post-Diasporic judaism.

There have been allways a lot of controversy about the nature of universe and the meaning of human life, that will not find in cristianism.

Judaism is only dogmatic about rules (and even there, not so much) not about principles.


Posted by: Kantor at March 13, 2005 10:44 PM Permalink


The fact that Cristianism is a full cosmovision where there is no room for disagreement makes it far more simple than post-Diasporic judaism.

hm. have you ever observed three jesuits discussing theology? imagine three rabbis trying to interpret the talmud.

as a point of specific fact, christians have never been able to figure out if they accept post-corporeal migration of the spirit to heaven or a bodily ressurection for the past 2000 years on the issue of the after life. both simultaneously play a role in christian thought in most denominations (exceptions are the jehovah witnesses, who reject the soul migration for ressurection).

and of course, the nature of the trinity is the root of most pre-reformation christian disputes.

Posted by: razib at March 13, 2005 10:51 PM Permalink

Yes, I have observed a lot Catolicism! And believe me, it is more than boring.

The religious irrationalism in judaism is concentrated in the laws and rules, while in catolicism is in the moral principles and the cosmovision.

So, even the most extremist rabbi is aloud to think freely about the nature of Universe and human life: a catholic priest has a lot of philosofic dogmatism to cope with.

And remember, catolicism is based on the rejection of the body. Not limited "niddah rules" but full body hatred.

Posted by: Kantor at March 13, 2005 11:01 PM Permalink

Razib: I think that the discrepancy between the Moment numbers and mine are intergenerational. A lot has changed between my parents' generation and mine. If you look at the orthodox defection rate for the current population of Jews you get something like 50%, but if you look at my generation and younger you get something like 5%. I think that this report has the data, but you have to derive it. (I'll try to look at it later, I don't have time right now.)

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at March 13, 2005 11:41 PM Permalink

"And remember, catolicism is based on the rejection of the body. Not limited "niddah rules" but full body hatred."

Yeah it's a shame that the Valentinists were triumphant. Oh wait.

I don't think you actually know the Catholic (there's an 'h' in that word, by the way) position on such issues. JPII's "Theology of the Body" addresses this issue in particular.

On the topic of philosophical dogmatism, Thomism has only been said to be the model for philosophical systems in the service of the Church. The RCC is certainly not dogmatically Aristotelian (and note that St. Thomas was suspect at the time specifically because of his Aristotelianism!) (also, I think it is underemphasized how dogmatic Judaism has to be on at least some metaphysical issues for the halakha to make sense; it's not like just any set of arbitrary statements will make the Torah comprehensible.)

Posted by: Daniel at March 17, 2005 07:26 AM Permalink

I think it is underemphasized how dogmatic Judaism has to be on at least some metaphysical issues for the halakha to make sense

The point is: It doesn't have to "make sense". No one will bother you if you reject the reason and keep the practice. (I don't know what specific issues you're thinking of...)

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at March 17, 2005 08:17 AM Permalink

Basic issues like "it is possible to obey commands" and "there is a subject which is commanded". Things that practically no one would seriously doubt, but which are nonetheless metaphysical claims.

The idea of a Jew being commanded requires both a Jew and a command, after all. I'm not saying there has to be a rationale behind the commands, but only that the commands in general be conceivable. So if you have no idea why you should keep kosher, that's not a deal-breaker (it's possible to act from respect for a rule), but if you can't understand what it means to "obey a rule" then you have a serious problem.

Posted by: Daniel at March 18, 2005 09:12 AM Permalink