The Case for Having More Kids
The Israel-Hamas war is making more Israeli women and their partners seriously consider having even more children. Why might this be the case?
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After the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7th, many young Israelis (both secular and religious) suddenly decided they want to have more children.
Israel, in general, is among the countries bucking the trend of global fertility that’s on pace to drop below 1.7 by the end of this century. No less the countries like Italy, South Korea, Spain, and Thailand which will lose more than half their population within the lifetimes of children being born this year.
Across the OECD, a group mostly of rich countries, the average fertility rate has fallen from almost three in 1970 to 1.6, well below the rate of about 2.1 needed to keep a population from shrinking.
Whereas the average British and French woman has 1.6 and 1.8 children, respectively, their Israeli peers are currently having 2.9 children on average.
“If an Israeli woman has fewer than three children, she feels as if she owes everyone an explanation — or an apology,” an Israeli demographer sarcastically said.1
From the State of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 through the 1950s, the fertility rate was 3.4, then declined to 2.6 between 1960 and 1990, before climbing back up to its current level of 2.9.
Much of this increase is caused by Israel’s growing number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have a fertility rate of 6.6, more than double the national average and three times the rate of secular Jews. As a result, the share of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel’s population has more or less doubled every generation.
Though ultra-Orthodox Jews make up just 13-percent of the population, their offspring make up nearly one-fifth of Israeli children under the age of 14, and about a quarter of those under the age of four. Israel’s statistical agency observed that, under present trends, half of Israeli children will be ultra-Orthodox Jews by 2065.
There are several hypotheses about why the birth rate among ultra-Orthodox Jews has remained so high. For one thing, many want big families to make up for the millions of Jews murdered during the Holocaust, while others believe they are serving God by multiplying.
More realistically, ultra-Orthodox women tend to marry and have children at a younger age than secular Jews. Ultra-Orthodox communities also try hard to insulate themselves from outside influences, such as TV and the internet, which may cause them to be less aware of the forces pushing down fertility in other places
And since ultra-Orthodox couples tend to follow the more traditional family structure, whereby the mother doesn’t work (or at least not full-time), ultra-Orthodox women theoretically have more time to properly raise many children.
But it is harder to explain why non-Orthodox Jewish Israelis also have more children than the norm. Most of them work, and paid leave for Israeli parents is not especially generous compared to other socialist countries. Nor is childcare cheap.
Some claim that non-Orthodox Jewish Israelis make more babies because they foresee a rosier future. (Israel ranks among the world’s top 10 countries in happiness.)
Another reason could be that the state encourages baby-making by, for instance, bankrolling fertility treatments to the tune of $150 million per year. Tiny Israel has about the same number of frozen embryos as the United States. This may have only a slight effect on Israel’s birth rate, but it signals that the government wants its citizens to procreate.
One more explanation could be that Israeli grandparents tend to help out more than their peers in many other rich countries. Since Israel is geographically small and densely populated, many grandparents live in relative close proximity to their children and grandchildren.
In one survey, 83-percent of secular Jewish mothers aged 25 to 39 said they were supported by their child’s grandparents, while only 30-percent of German mothers said the same.
Another interesting piece of data is that, in Israel, the traditional family structure is still strong, with less than 10-percent of babies born out of wedlock, compared to more than 50-percent in England and France. Thus, Israeli women might feel more comfortable procreating knowing that they have a reliable, committed partner beside them.
Even then, the Israel-Hamas war is making more Israeli women and their partners seriously consider having even more children. Why might this be the case?
Once upon a time, having many kids, let’s say between 10 to 15, was a simultaneous matter of productivity and lack of productivity. It was unproductive to have kids because infant and childhood mortality used to be much higher, so having more of them meant that some would die young and others would grow into adulthood.
At the same time, it was productive to have kids because families needed children to work, for example, on the farm, or in a small family-owned and -operated factory. Kids were labor.
In a rural economy, it pays to have children, unlike in an urban economy, where it costs to have them. Indeed, the fertility decline correlates somewhat — though not perfectly — with the transformation from agrarian to city life.2
Hence why the fertility decline to modern-day levels is mostly an economic response to the changing value of children, and to the changing economic relationship between parents and children: Before the fertility decline, resources flowed from children to parents (and even up to grandparents and kin). Nowadays, resources flow from parents to children.
John Caldwell scientifically researched fertility decline and characterized the current trends as a replacement of “family morality,” in which children are expected to “work hard, demand little, and respect the authority of the old.” According to Caldwell, today’s kids are largely raised with “community morality,” in which children are dependent on their parents to become productive citizens down the line (perhaps even upwardly mobile).3
Right now in Israel, against the backdrop of its war with Hamas, the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward a a middle ground between “family morality” and “community morality” — whereby kids are again seen as productive, not by working on a farm or within a family business, but by being productive in maintaining the world as we know it.
Many parents argue that they don’t want to have more kids (or any kids at all) because our world feels like an increasingly uncertain, scary, and turbulent place. But what if having more kids was actually the recipe for making our world a brighter, safer, and more secure place?
What if we looked at kids, not as an expense, but as an investment? Specifically, an investment in replicating and building upon all that’s good in our world.
What if, in child speak, we looked at our kids as “the good guys” who are tasked with outdoing, or at least neutralizing, “the bad guys?”
Speaking of “the bad guys,” Yasser Arafat — the terrorist who led so-called Palestinian liberation for three-and-a-half decades — described “the womb of the Arab woman” as his “strongest weapon.” Hamas has been known to urge couples in Gaza to have more kids in order to create a larger army. In Iran, religious leaders have long called on women to have more babies.
And we know that the Muslim population, currently 1.8 billion people worldwide with 49 Muslim-majority countries, is projected to increase by 70-percent through 2060, compared with the world’s 32-percent growth of total population.
I know that not all Muslims are baby-beheading, women-raping, family-burning, genocide-driven murderers, but that’s not the point. If two-percent of them are blood-spilling jihadists, if another three-percent are likely to become radicalized, and if another five-percent won’t personally engage in jihadism but will cheer on others who do, that’s something like 180 million people who we have good reason to worry about.
And with the use of modern technology — both military and otherwise — 180 million people can feel like 10 times that amount real fast.
Therefore, the only way to beat “the bad guys” is to match them, child for child.
But this is not just a message to our enemies who want to destroy the West; it’s also a message to our kids and their communities. It’s a message that Maimonides, the legendary Jewish philosopher, said best:
A couple can theoretically fulfill the mitzvah (a good deed) of bearing children by having one boy and one girl. One of each gender is the minimum according to Torah, since it ensures human survival and continuity.
But for those who are physically fruitful and potent, they ought to add many more souls to the world, for each soul is as if they built an entire world. Each child, in other words, is endlessly valuable and infinitely necessary.
“In Israel, birth rates are converging between Jews and Muslims.” The Economist. https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2022/08/18/in-israel-birth-rates-are-converging-between-jews-and-muslims.
“Children aren’t worth very much—that’s why we no longer make many.” Quartz. https://qz.com/231313/children-arent-worth-very-much-thats-why-we-no-longer-make-many.
“Mass Education as a Determinant of the Timing of Fertility Decline.” Population and Development Review, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Jun., 1980), pp. 225-255 (31 pages).