Haredi population projections to be less than previous estimates

The size of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) population by 2059 will be significantly lower than previous forecasts have predicted, according to a new study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies released on Wednesday.

Although the Central Bureau of Statistics recently forecast that the haredi population would be 50% of the Jewish population by 2059, data from the haredi education system indicates it will be 35% of the population by then, the study by Prof. Alex Weinreb and Nachum Blass said.

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The study showed that among pupils in the country’s different education systems – state, state-religious and haredi – those in the haredi system increased at the fastest rate between 2001 and 2015.

But, from 2013 to 2015 the growth in the number of pupils in the haredi system was 7.5% lower than would otherwise be expected from data regarding the fertility rate in the haredi sector.

The study found that a significant cause behind this lower growth was changes in the religious orientation of students and their families, reflected in student transfers between education streams.

Of haredi pupils born between 1992 and 2003 who started school in the haredi system, some 11% of girls and 13% of boys left the system by eighth grade, with 6.5% transferring to the state-religious system and 4.5% transferring to the general state system.

At the same time, about 20% of girls and 25% of boys in the state-religious system left, most of them to the general state system and a small number to haredi schools.

Almost 98% of the students who attended general state schools in first grade remained there in eighth grade. The vast majority of those who left the stream transferred to a state-religious school, while only 0.4% transferred to a haredi school.

“The movement between the streams indicates a significant slowdown in the growth rate of the religious population, a slight slowdown in the growth of the haredi population and an end to the decline, and even a slight increase, in the growth rate of the secular population in Israel,” Weinreb and Blass said in the report.

“It seems that large segments of the religious and haredi populations are experiencing a decline, to various degrees, in the level of religious commitment,” they said, noting that fertility rates among haredim are still much higher than in the other population groups, so the share of the haredi population is expected to continue to rise.

According to the researches, previous studies have shown that trends of decreased religiosity continue until 12th grade, and about 15% of haredim in each generation are expected to leave the sector.

“Forecasts based on natural growth rates, which do not take other factors into account, should be treated cautiously,” Taub Center executive director Prof. Avi Weiss said. “In addition to movement between the sectors, we must take into account that level of religiosity doesn’t necessarily reflect a particular stance on participation in the labor market, for example, and the data show that more and more haredim are joining the labor force without rejecting their way of life.”