Fertility change among immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union

Barbara S. Okun, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Shlomit Kagya, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Research on the evolution of immigrant fertility patterns has focused on the expected reduction in fertility among immigrants from high-fertility, less developed countries who arrive in relatively low-fertility developed societies. In contrast, we examine the fertility patterns of immigrants to a higher-fertility setting in Israel from the lower-fertility Former Soviet Union (FSU). We test competing and complementary theories of fertility change among immigrants. We analyze micro data from the 1995 Israeli Census of Population, which allow for examination of parity-specific fertility before, around the time of, and following immigration. We use multivariate Cox regression to analyze the risk of transition to first marriage and successive parities. Results suggest that in years immediately leading up to and especially following immigration, fertility is substantially depressed relative to levels in the 5-10 years prior to immigration. Specifically, the typical FSU pattern of rapid advancement towards marriage and first birth is very tempered, and is followed by an even greater than typical postponement or foregoing of second and third births. The results regarding marriage behavior show that marriage rates spike just prior to migration, but plummet afterwards. In general, our findings do no support assimilation theory, which would predict an increase in fertility following migration in this context. Rather, we interpret dramatically reduced marriage and fertility rates following immigration, particularly among the most educated group, in terms of economic hardship and uncertainty experienced during a difficult transition period by immigrants who have high aspirations for social mobility in their destination society. We suggest that immigrants limit or postpone fertility as a response to economic difficulty and as a means to achieving greater social mobility.

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Presented in Session 96: Fertility of immigrants