The Kibbutz Movement - Facts and figures - 2002
Avraham Pavin
Yad Tabenkin - Research and Documentation Center of the Kibbutz Movement
According to the data provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the total population of the Kibbutz Movement in the year 2000 numbered 115,300 people, living in 268 kibbutzim. Approximately 80% of the kibbutz population is concentrated in kibbutzim founded before the establishment of the state. When adding the kibbutzim founded during the first decade following the establishment of the state, we arrive at 94% of the total kibbutz population.

While most of the Jewish population lives in the center of the country in a small number of urban areas, most of the kibbutz population lives in the periphery. The commitment of the pioneers to implement the Zionist policy of determining the state’s frontiers by means of agricultural settlement, and later their willingness to carry out the government policy aimed at the dispersion of the Jewish population, both led to the establishment of kibbutzim in the periphery. The years 1970–1985 was a period of accelerated growth of the kibbutz population. In the mid-eighties, owing to the economic crisis that befell the kibbutzim – as it did a large section of the productive sector in Israel – population growth came to a halt. Unlike the previous period, from 1985 to 1993 the kibbutz population increased but little, and this growth was mostly due to thousands of new immigrants whose stay in the kibbutzim was temporary, within the framework of the project “First home in the homeland”. The population census of 1995 reflected a constant decline in the kibbutz population, and showed that its proportion both within the rural population and within the Jewish and Israeli population as a whole was decreasing.

Apart from a decade of economic growth from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, in most of the years the balance of migration into and out of the kibbutzim has been negative. This is a part of a general process of migration from rural to urban areas and from the periphery to the center of the country, but in the kibbutzim the process has been speeded up by the kibbutz crisis. After the period of the establishment of most of the kibbutzim, the main source of growth of the kibbutz was the second generation. In the recent decade, natural growth has been decreasing, resulting in the decline of the number of young children on kibbutzim. This progressive demographic change will lead to a decrease in the young and active age-group in years to come.

In recent years, a process of aging of the population has become evident. In the year 2000, the median age (with half the population above it and half below) was 29.1, while in 1989 it was 25.8; however this is still lower than the median age of the Jewish population in Israel, which is 29.8. Apart from the tendency typical of western countries to postpone marriage and limit family size, the accelerated aging of the kibbutz population is due to the fact that many young people are leaving the kibbutz.

The level of education of the kibbutz population is relatively high and there are hardly any members who did not complete primary school. Most of the kibbutz-born completed secondary school, but since the kibbutz movements were for many years opposed to formal studies, a relatively small number have had higher education, and few have obtained higher degrees.

The occupational structure on kibbutz is different from that in the Jewish population. Almost a half of the members work in agriculture or industry, as opposed to a quarter in the Jewish population in Israel. Fewer kibbutz members are employed in financial and public services, more in personal services. A comparison of the data regarding the occupational structure in the Jewish population as a whole and that living on kibbutz reveals a situation detrimental to the kibbutz population both in the exploitation of the existing human capital, and in the provision of opportunities for interesting and challenging work for the members. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the younger generations tend to acquire higher education and wish to exploit their potential. These factors combine in causing a growing number of members to seek work outside the kibbutz.

Long-term tendencies of the kibbutz economy point to the expansion of industry at the expense of agriculture, and to a decline in the proportion of people working in the services, or rather to turning them into “businesses” (also selling their services to the population outside the kibbutz, for instance taking children from outside into the children’s houses). This trend reflects the efforts to cope with the economic crisis by raising the proportion of people working in productive branches and expanding income-generating businesses, thus leading to a growth in service branches.

Kibbutz industry constitutes an important component of Israeli industry in sales, in the number of employees and particularly in exports. It is concentrated in three main branches: plastics, metals and food. The proportion of the plastics branch is important on all parameters, but its contribution to export is particularly significant. Certain other branches are also aimed at export, for instance the food industry and smaller branches such as printing and the manufacture of furniture. In the year 2000 the kibbutzim owned 346 industrial plants and 11 regional corporations comprising some 50 industrial units. The total amount of sales was 18.2 billion shekels, including 14.6 billion shekels by kibbutz plants and 3.6 billion by regional corporations. In that year the kibbutz industry’s exports totaled 1.28 billion dollars, constituting 40% of all sales by the kibbutz plants and regional corporations. This is a decrease of almost 2% in the relative proportion of exports, as opposed to the tendency towards growth in previous years.

Compared to Israeli (and world) industry, which is becoming capital intensive, particularly in human capital, kibbutz industry tends to be labor intensive. This is connected to the concentration on plastics, metal and food, amounting to 75% of the sales, as compared to 50% of the total sales of Israeli industry. Therefore the impressive growth of Israeli economy in the year 2000, mainly in the sphere of advanced technology, to a large extent bypassed kibbutz industry. In the last quarter of that year, with the start of the intifada, there was a sharp fall in the activity of the economy, causing a10% decrease in income from industry.

In the year 2000, income from agriculture remained more or less on the same level as in 1999, which marked a decrease as compared to 1998, an exceptionally good year. The long-term trend, characterizing Israeli agriculture for more than a decade, is manifested in the fall in the prices of agricultural products, both relatively to the cost of output to producers as well as to the cost of purchased inputs. Consequently, the trend towards a decline in the real value of agricultural produce is continuing. The decrease in the profitability of agriculture has brought about a restructuring of the branch by enlarging the economic units (separating the areas no longer devoted to agriculture) and increasingly relying on hired labor.

The decline in the kibbutz population due to the economic crisis is only partly an internal kibbutz phenomenon. It also stems from the ongoing transformation in population distribution, worldwide and particularly in Israel. The proportion of the rural population within the total Jewish population is consistently decreasing. It is part of a general process of migration from rural to urban areas. Apart from the quantitative change, a change has also occurred in the fabric of the rural sector. The most striking manifestation of this trend is the appearance and speedy growth of “communal localities”, and to a lesser degree the “extensions” (neighborhoods built adjacent to cooperative societies, but not actually belonging to them).

In spite of the above developments, until 1983 the kibbutzim experienced a momentum of economic development, apparently unaffected by the general trend. However since then, the proportion of the kibbutz population within the overall Jewish population has declined at a faster rate than the population of other types of rural localities. The balance of migration related to the kibbutzim is negative, while regarding moshavim (cooperative villages) and community villages it is positive. Yet the growth of the moshavim is mainly due to “extensions” (new neighborhoods whose residents are not members of the cooperation).

The salient phenomenon is the high proportion of young people leaving the rural sector. In view of the age structure of the population mobility, it is clear that few young people are returning to the rural areas (after army service). Moreover, many families with children are also leaving the kibbutzim.

Yad Tabenkin, March 2002
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