A study published by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) this week shows that the non-Orthodox American Jews including atheists, Conservative and Reform, who in years past were the foundation of American Jewry, have been in significant decline in recent decades. That’s not news to most of us, but the rate of decline, according to JPPI, is alarming.
The study, conducted by Sylvia Barack Fishman of Brandeis University and Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Stanford University, analyzes the data in the landmark 2013 Pew Research Institute survey of American Jewry.
The analysis shows that more than 65 percent of Jewish children 18 or younger are raised Orthodox, mainly ultra-Orthodox. Also, more than 27% of Jewish children today are Orthodox – while only 12% of US Jewry, at most, is Orthodox. Obviously, the discrepancy here is the result of the much higher birthrates in Orthodox families, which means that this trend is bound to increase in a decade.
Otherwise, according to the study, “considerable disturbing evidence points to deeply challenging trends in America’s Jewish families — late marriage, intermarriage, reduced child-bearing and non-Jewish child-rearing.”
“As a group, this generation of contemporary younger Americans is marrying later than the generation of their parents and grandparents, according to numerous previous studies,” the study notes. “We may illustrate this trend with reference to almost any local Jewish community study conducted repeatedly over the years (and every such community will differ from a national sample). For example, the Boston Jewish Population Survey conducted every ten years from 1965 onward shows a clear trajectory of declining marriage rates: among 30-39 year olds, 87-88% were married in 1965 and 1975, but only 67-69% in 1985 and 1995. Today, 50% of non-Haredi American Jews ages 25 to 54 are currently not married, although some have partners.”
Among American Jews ages 25 to 34, at least 53%, and possibly as many as 69% have never been married. By the time non-Orthodox Jews reach their late 40s and 50s, 87% of them will have married, but many non-Haredim in recent years have married after their childbearing years.
“Numerous studies, including a recent qualitative study of Jewish fertility goals, show that most [non-Orthodox] Jewish women continue to hope to have children ‘someday.’ However, many do not assign childbearing chronological priority, and encounter unexpected infertility, often having no or fewer children than their expected family size,” the study concludes.
“The absence of children – particularly children being raised in the Jewish religion – represents yet one more missing incentive to Jewish communal engagement,” the study finds. “Since religious child rearing has been a major stimulus for religious engagement in general and for Jewish engagement as well, major portions of the adult Jewish population not only postpone such experiences, but – not coincidentally – pass through their adult lives without experiencing a familial-based need to affiliate with synagogues or other Jewish institutions. Clearly, it is critical to understand the factors making it more likely that younger American Jews will marry, create unambiguously Jewish homes, and raise Jewish children.”
The cure, according to the study authors, is in education: “Our findings demonstrate that educational interventions in childhood can change outcomes in adulthood. Jewish education that extends into the teen years not only makes adult Jews more likely to forge Jewish connections – it makes them more likely to marry another Jew, and to raise Jewish-by-religion children. Moreover, Jewish education is a strategic intervention that can be very much influenced by imaginative and energetic communal efforts.”