Israel shows us the way


When I have looked at IVF, I have tried to look at the leading countries to see what they are doing. So which countries are leading? The metric I was most interested in was IVF cycles per million head of population. On this measure, Israel was by far the most active country in the world in terms of IVF.

Why did I skip Israel from the original analysis? Well when I went to look up birth statistics in Israel, they presented a breakdown by religion. The good news is that it is showing that total births are surging. The bad news is that it is only for Jews in Israel. One very plausible reason for rising birth rates in Israel is that very religious Jews tend to have more babies for many religion specific reasons. Hence it makes it very hard to argue that IVF is driving higher birth rates in Israel.

However a recent article in The Economist, show the average number of births broken down not just by the major religious groups, but adds in Haredi Jews, Religious Jews and Secular Jews. Haredi Jews could be characterised as extremely religious.

What I found so fascinating about this data is not that more religious Jews have more babies. This is well known. What I found so interesting was the “Secular Jews” also have so many babies. Israel these days is in the midst of a high tech boom, with surging property prices, and almost every second person seemingly a venture capitalist, and yet birth rates remain above two. In comparison, in the US, American Jews are below 2, which includes both religious and secular Jews.

So why do Israelis have so many children, regardless of religious beliefs. Israeli government policy is to subsidize treatment of all women regardless of marital status under the age of 45 until they have 2 children, regardless of the number of treatments they need. This liberal support of IVF means that has 1m frozen embryos, the same number as the US, despite a population of only 9m compared to 330m in the US. As far as I can tell the budget commitment required is minimal.

What does this all mean? Countries like Japan that face a meaningful collapse in population should emulate the policies of Israel. Population decline is not destiny, its a policy choice.