Post-Soviet Jewish population in the contemporary World: a study of demographic transformation in the course of mass migration

Mark Tolts, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Since 1970 about 1.9 million (ex-) Soviet Jews and their relatives emigrated to countries outside the former Soviet Union (FSU). Most of this movement (1.15 million, or 60 percent) was directed toward Israel, whereas the rest was divided mostly between the USA and Germany. The 1970 Soviet census, taken about the time that the mass Jewish emigration began, showed that there were about 2.15 million “core” Jews (by self-identification) in the Soviet Union. To evaluate their subsequent dynamics we estimated the respective balance of births and deaths, and additions to the “core” Jewish population as a result of ethnic re-identification in the process of migration. The estimates (which use the 1970 Soviet census as a baseline) show that, by the beginning of 2004, worldwide there were about 1.6 million “core” Jews who originated in the FSU, of whom about one-tenth had become part of the “core” Jewish population as a result of their ethnic re-identification, mostly in Israel. About one-half of these “core” Jews were living in Israel, less than one-quarter remained in the FSU, and the rest were mostly in the USA and Germany. Migration has been a positive factor in the demographic dynamics. Jews who emigrated to Israel not only escaped the dramatic fertility reduction characteristic of the FSU population as a whole and Jews in particular, but also their life expectancy rose considerably. In 1999-2004 the total fertility rate among FSU Jewish immigrants was 1.7-1.8; that is, it doubled the post-Soviet level of Jewish fertility in the FSU (about 0.9) and approached the level of the total fertility rate of Israeli non-religious Jews. The post-Soviet exodus led to both tens of thousands of additional births among those Jews who emigrated, most of which occurred in Israel, and to the postponed deaths of many migrants wherever they settled.

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Presented in Session 14: Transnational Communities and Diaspora Networks