Preliminary statistics from a new demographicstudy conducted by the Jewish Federation seem to show that our worstfears are not true. Among couples who married during the five yearsending in1997, the rate of intermarriage is 41 percent -- nothing toboast about, but not as bad as we'd heard. The percentage ofintermarried couples among all existing married Jewish households(from newlyweds to long-married) in the region is 22 percent,compared to 20 percent in the Federation's last study in 1979. Thisapplies to the area that runs from the Simi and Conejo valleys in thenorth to the border of Long Beach and from downtown to the PacificOcean, including an estimated 519,000 Jews the Federation serves.
Surprisingly, the intermarriage rate (during afive-year period between 1985 and 1990) measured by the NationalJewish Population Study of 1990 was higher -- 52 percent.
The results came as a surprise to Dr. Pini Herman,research coordinator of the Federation's Planning and AllocationsDepartment, which oversaw the study. The western part of the countryis often considered a hotbed of intermarriage, Herman said. "Peoplehere tend not to be as observant of their religion, so you wouldexpect to see a higher intermarriage rate in Los Angeles."
Since the area surveyed is not precisely the sameas in the 1979 study (the increasingly Jewish Simi/Conejo area wasnot included then and the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys, now servedby another Federation, were), intermarriage may be higher in theareas the report doesn't cover, Herman hypothesized. But still, hesaid, at the current rate of intermarriage, the Los Angeles Jewishpopulation is unlikely to disappear for another 500 to 600 years. "Myimpression is that [intermarriage] is a long, slow trend, even thoughit's a trend that exists," Herman said. "It's a kitchen fire, not ahouse fire."
Dr. Bruce Phillips, a professor of Jewish CommunalStudies at Hebrew Union College's Jewish Institute of Religion, andthe author of a 1993 study on Jewish intermarriage, was somewhat moreskeptical than Herman. He questioned what the current data would showif analyzed in terms of generational differences. "Immigrants andchildren of immigrants don't intermarry very much," he said. LosAngeles' large number of immigrants, may have affected theintermarriage rate, Phillips suggested. The survey results still meanthat more than half of couples being formed are intermarried, sincethe approximately six Jews in 10 that marry other Jews would formthree couples, while the four out of 10 who marry non-Jews wouldcreate four intermarried couples, he added.
Herman's research corroborated with Phillips'study on one matter: among children of two Jewish parents,intermarriage has slowed down somewhat. Phillips theorized that thismight be the result of the growing immigrant population, ofintermarrieds migrating out of the Los Angeles area or of a slowdowncaused by the increasing outcry in the Jewish community againstintermarriage.
When broken down by regions, areas with thelargest concentration of Jews tend to have the lowest numbers ofintermarried Jews, and those with the least Jews have the highestnumber. San Pedro, with a very small Jewish population, has thehighest concentration of mixed marriages: 62 percent among allmarried Jewish households. Beverly Hills has the lowest number ofmixed marriages: 4 percent. In central Los Angeles, which includesHollywood and has a low Jewish density, the percentage ofintermarried and couples in which the non-Jewish partner hadconverted were equal at 38 percent each, with only 23 percent of Jewsmarried to other Jews. In areas where younger Jews have settled, suchas the Conejo and Simi valleys and the South Bay beach cities, thenumber of intermarried households is higher (29 percent and 32percent, respectively). "It's a known phenomenon that the youngergeneration tends to marry out," Herman said.
Data from the population survey was collected in1996 and 1997. It included random calls to more than 69,000 phonenumbers and completed interviews with 2,641 Jewish households. Forpurposes of the study, a Jew was defined as one who was born a Jew,raised a Jew and not converted out, or a person with one parent whowas Jewish. A more detailed report, including statistics onaffiliation, education and other topics, is expected to be releasedin March.
Jewish Households in Los Angeles
Another part of the study dealing with household size uncoveredseveral trends. Among these are:
- The average Jewish household size has declined slightly from 2.27 to 2.1 persons per household, less than both the 2.91 figure for all Los Angeles households and 2.27 for non-Hispanic white households.
- Orthodox Jewish households average 2.7 persons; Conservative Jewish households average 2.3 persons; and Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish households average 2.1 persons. Among Jewish households that don't identify themselves with any denomination, the average is 1.8 persons per household.
- Surprisingly, the study points out, "in a community that has always considered two-parent families with minor children as its basic building blocks, it is interesting to note that 77 percent of Jewish households are not of this type."
- Jewish fertility is also lower than the surrounding non-Hispanic white population at 213 children ages 0 to 4 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, compared to 449 for all Los Angeles women and 312 for non-Hispanic white women in that age group. The number is expected to decline further as baby boomers age beyond their childbearing years until the children of baby boomers start having their own children.
- Almost half -- 48 percent -- of Jewish households contain only unmarried persons, compared to 42 percent in 1979. More than a quarter of households -- 28 percent -- contain only one person, of which one-third have never married, about a quarter are divorced or separated and more than a third are widowed.
- There is a growing number of never-married Jews. The proportion of never-married persons over 18 has increased from 18.2 percent of households to 21.2, as the number of married persons has declined from 64.2 percent to 61.3.