Some 145,000 babies were born in Israel in 2003, with 68 percent of the mothers being Jewish, 25 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, 2 percent Druze and 3 percent women whose religion was not defined by the Interior Ministry.
The Central Bureau of Statistics, which published the figures, noted that the number of babies born in Israel in 2003 was 40 percent higher than the number in 1990, and was in keeping with the growth of the population since then.
The fertility rate, however, did not change and stood at 2.9 babies per woman. In the middle of the 1950s, the fertility rate was four children per woman.
Israel's fertility rate is higher than that of developed countries. In the United States, it is two children per woman, in France 1.9, in Japan 1.3, and in Italy, Greece and Spain 1.2.
In developing countries, the fertility rate is higher: 2.9 in Peru, 2.8 in Algeria and 3.1 in India.
A 2.1 fertility rate is necessary to maintain the size of the population.
The largest change in fertility rates in Israel occurred among members of the Druze population.
In 1990, the average fertility rate was 4.1 children per woman but this plummeted to 2.9 in 2003. Among the Arab Christian population, there was a more moderate drop - from 2.9 in 1996 to 2.4 in 2003.
Among Muslim women in Israel, the fertility rate was relatively stable for 15 years, at between 4.7 and 4.6 children per woman. In 2003, it dropped slightly to 4.5.
In the Jewish population, the fertility rate has been a steady 2.7-2.6 over the past decade.
The average age of a woman giving birth last year was 28.8. The average age for a first birth was 25.8, about 16 months older than in 1994. Jewish women have their first child at 26.7 on the average, and Muslims at 22.7.
In the Jewish sector, about 6 percent of the babies born in 2003 were born to single mothers. This is much lower than in Europe, where unmarried mothers total 26 percent in Germany, 40 percent in Britain and 45 percent in Denmark.
Reproduced with permission from ©Haaretz