Jan Meisels Allen
On May 11, 2021, the Pew Research Center published a new study on America’s Jews. This is the second study on Jewish Americans by the Pew Research Center- the first was in 2013. The new survey of U.S. Jews, was conducted from Nov. 19, 2019, to June 3, 2020, among 4,718 Jews across the country who were identified through 68,398 completed screening interviews conducted by mail and online. Pew nol onger did random phone calling but instead sent letters to randomly selected residential addresses across the country, asking the recipients to go online to take a short screening survey. We also provided the option to fill out the survey on a paper form and return it by mail, so as not to limit the survey only to people who have access to the internet and are comfortable using it. These methods obtained a response rate (17%).
The 2013 survey measured not only the size and makeup of American Jewry, but quantified what those Jews believed (or didn’t), how they practiced their religion (or didn’t), whom they married, how they raised their children and how they felt about Israel.
The new edition asks many of the same questions, and adds a few new ones based on the events and conversation of the past few years. For example, the survey delves much deeper into antisemitism, as well as racial and ethnic diversity among American Jews.
Its authors have cautioned not to make direct comparisons between the data in the two surveys because of differences in methodology.
More than 4,700 Jews took part in the survey, which has a margin of error of 3%, with larger margins of error for subsets. Questions pertaining to Orthodox respondents, for example, had a margin of error of 8.8%.
Basics from the study:
The American Jewish community is growing and increasingly diverse. It is largely educated, affluent and leans Democratic. Most of its young people are marrying non-Jews, though many of those families are still raising their kids Jewish.
Orthodox Jewry is growing and the Conservative movement is shrinking. The more traditionally observant Jews are, the more likely they are to consume Jewish culture.
“1. There are 7.5 million American Jews.
The number includes approximately 5.8 million adults and 1.8 million children. About 4.2 million of the adults identify their religion as Jewish, while the rest of the adults are what Pew calls “Jews of no religion.”
The 7.5 million figure is up from the 6.7 million counted in 2013, which included some 5.3 million adults and 1.3 million children. And the 2021 figure is a bit larger than the Jewish population of Israel, which is around 6.9 million.
2. Most young Jews are either Orthodox or unaffiliated.
The future of American Jewry appears to be one of polarization. The numbers of Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews are growing. The Conservative and Reform movements, which once claimed the bulk of the American Jewish community, are shrinking.
Overall, the raw percentages belonging to each denomination haven’t changed much since 2013. But religious affiliation by age shows a changing community.
Among Jews aged 65 and older, 69% are either Conservative or Reform, while just 3% are Orthodox. But among adults under 30, 37% are Conservative and Reform and 17% are Orthodox. Just 8% of those young adults are Conservative, as opposed to 25% of Jews over 65.
And 41% of Jews under 30 are unaffiliated, compared to 22% over 65.
3. Some 15% of young Jewish adults are not white.
The survey adds to a discussion that the Jewish community has been having in recent years: What proportion of American Jews are Jews of color, and have Jews of color been undercounted as a result of institutional bias? That conversation grew more intense during and after the protests over racial injustice that began last year.
The survey did not ask about the term “Jews of color” specifically because of debates over its definition and researchers were concerned that respondents may not be familiar with it. But the survey aimed to measure the racial and ethnic diversity of American Jewry.
It found that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community identifies primarily as white — 92% — but that young adults are significantly more diverse. Some 85% of adults under 30 identify primarily as white, while 7% identify as Hispanic, 2% as Black, 6% as multiracial and less than 1% as Asian or Pacific Islander. By contrast, 97% of Jews over 65 identify primarily as white.
And while most American Jews were born in the U.S. and identify as Ashkenazi (with roots primarily in Eastern Europe), those numbers drop among young adults as well. Among those under 30, 28% are either not Ashkenazi, identify with at least one racial minority or are the children of immigrants from countries with a largely nonwhite population.
Overall, two-thirds of Jews identify as Ashkenazi, while only 3% identify as Sephardic, or following the traditional religious Jewish customs of Spain, according to Pew. Another 1% identify as Mizrahi, a term primarily used in Israel that refers to Jews with roots in the Middle East and North Africa.
The 2021 study found that in the past decade, 61% of Jews married non-Jewish partners. And nearly three-quarters of non-Orthodox Jews who married since 2010 wed non-Jews. Intermarriage is quite rare among Orthodox Jews. In total, 42% of married Jews have a spouse who is not Jewish.
The study found that American Jews are significantly more educated than Americans overall, and wealthier. The majority of Jews have a college or postgraduate degree, as opposed to fewer than 30% of Americans overall. Jews also have higher salaries. The majority of Jewish adults have a household income of more than $100,000, including 23% above $200,000. Only 19% of Americans overall have a household income above $100,000. Jews also report being satisfied with their lives and communities at higher rates than Americans as a whole.
The survey found that the vast majority of Jews, 76%, believe remembering the Holocaust is essential to being Jewish. A similar number said the same of leading an ethical and moral life. 15% of Jews said observing Jewish law is essential to being Jewish, and 33% said being part of a Jewish community was essential.”
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee