Population development of the Jewish population in Bohemia between the Years 1850 and 1939

Jana Vobecka, Charles University in Prague

Jewish demographic behaviour differed considerably from the one of the total population of Bohemia, one of the historical parts of the present Czech Republic. The fall in nuptiality, the shift of marriages into later ages and the continual decrease in both fertility and mortality took place earlier and more intensively in the Jewish population than in the total population of Bohemia. Therefore, the demographic revolution was completed within the Jewish population already around the year 1900, approximately 25 years earlier than within the total population. Main cause of this development can be seen in the process of Jewish emancipation which had started during the period of Enlightenment and was further deepened especially after 1848. The abolition of legal restrictions in Jewish activities, life and movement have influenced not only the changes in demographic behaviour but also the perception of the self-identity and the intensity of attachment to the religious traditions. Growing number of mixed marriages between the two World Wars, strong decline in fertility and subsequent progressive ageing have signaled a certain crisis in the population development of the Jewish religious community even before the arrival of the imminent danger represented by Nazism. Between 1890 and 1930, the total number of Jews in Bohemia decreased by 18 178 to 76 301. In the year 1930, the proportion of the mixed marriages within all marriages where at least one person was of Israelite religion was 43%. Also the average number of children born to married women was low: 1.7 children per Jewish woman as compared with 2.5 per woman in the whole Bohemia. Had these tendencies progressed naturally, one could have expected an almost complete melting of the Jewish population in the majority population. Assimilation and ageing would have made the demographic reproduction of the Jewish religious community in Bohemia very difficult.

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Presented in Session 34: Differentital fertility in the past