Population Numbers for European Jewry
Back in 1996, the scholar Bernard Wasserstein published the controversial book Vanishing Diaspora: The Jews in Europe since 1945. Citing negative demographic trends due to assimilation, falling birth rates and the mass emigration already underway from the former Soviet Union, he predicted a 21st-century Europe from which Jews practically disappeared. “At best,” he wrote, “the Jews in Europe face slow diminution, at worst virtual extinction.”
Nearly 25 years later, Jews have not disappeared from Europe, but the statistics provided in an October 2020 study published by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) bear out, at least to some extent, Wasserstein’s glum forecast. Written by Jewish demographers Sergio DellaPergola and Daniel Staetsky, the report estimates that the Jewish population of Europe today has shrunk to such an extent that its percentage of the European population in general is about what it was around 1,000 years ago.
What the report calls the “core” Jewish population in Europe amounts to around 1.3 million, about 41 percent of what it was in 1970. The main factor in this dramatic drop was the emigration—largely to Israel and the United States—of more than 1.8 million Jews from the former Soviet Union and elsewhere
in Eastern Europe since 1990: “Between 1970 and 2020, Europe lost 59 percent of its Jewish population,” the report states.
Two out of three European Jews now live in just three countries—France (448,000 Jews), the United Kingdom (292,000) and Germany (118,000).
According to a 2018 survey of 12 European Union countries carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and cited by the JPR report, the vast majority of European Jews say they intend to remain in their home countries. The mass emigration has peaked, and around 70,000 Israelis also now live in Europe.
But the statistics cited by the JPR report make clear that the demographic trends such as intermarriage, low fertility rates and aging populations that were already evident in the 1990s will likely continue to play a role in determining the future. European Jews are not a monolith, however. While population numbers may be smaller today, engagement has increased over the last several decades. There are active synagogues, Jewish schools, community centers and religious, cultural and secular associations that did not exist 30-plus years ago.
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