6.3 million Jews currently live in the U.S. This is momentous occasion in the sphere of U.S. Jewish communal self-knowledge. I’m flush with pleasure, that only a Jewish statistics nerd may have, from reading the methodology section of the just released “Portrait of American Jews” by the Pew Research Center documenting their laborious and thoughtful path to creating a reliable estimate of U.S. Jewry.
This demographer is now convinced he was mistaken in doubting the estimated extra million Jews that were estimated by Len Saxe and his group at Brandeis as well as Ira Sheskin and Arnold Deshevsky of the revived American Jewish Yearbook and as well as others who argued that 2000-1 NJPS underestimated U.S. Jews.
The new estimates arrive at 6.3 million American Jews by combining 5.3 million adult Jews (the estimated size of the net adult Jewish population of Jews by religion and Jews by no religion) with 1 million children (in households with a Jewish adult who are being raised Jewish) yielding a total estimate of 6.3 million Jews of all ages in the United States (rounded to the nearest 100,000).
Perhaps the most widely accepted prior estimate of 3.9 million Jews by religion in America age ages 14 comes from the 1957 Current Population Survey, the only time in the last six decades when the U.S. Census Bureau has asked individual Americans about their religious affiliation. The Pew study estimates that if the 1957 Current Population Survey finding is used as a benchmark, it appears that the 4.2 million adult Jews by religion currently estimated rose about 15% over the last half century, while the total U.S. population more than doubled over the same period.
Aside from obtaining a more accurate estimate of the size of the American Jewish population, the next most salient study finding is Jewish “denominational switching” from Jews by religion were raised as to how they currently Jewishly define themselves. The switch from Orthodox denominational affiliation and the switch from all Jewish denominations to “no religion” attracted my attention. Within all three major denominational movements, most of the religious switching that is occurring is in the direction of less-traditional Judaism (e.g., Orthodox to Conservative, or Conservative to Reform).
Over half, 52 percent, of Orthodox raised adults were found to be currently non-Orthodox including 5 percent being Jews of no religion and 6 percent being currently non-Jewish (people who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish but who, today, either have another religion [most are Christian] or say they do not consider themselves Jewish).
Len Saxe and others have long argued that national Jewish population trends might be tracked using less expensive methods than a full-blown National Jewish Population survey which was estimated to have a $12 million price tag. Now may be the time to take Saxe’s proposals seriously and gather the large amount of information that Pew Research’s Portrait of American Jews was not designed to gather information such as why denominational switching is so prevalent among American Jews raised by parents who seemed to identify with a Jewish denomination?
There are many other communal policy implications that the new Portrait of American Jews bring that Bruce Phillips and I will be discussing in our forthcoming blogs.
Pini Herman, PhD. specializes in demographics, big data and predictive analysis, has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography, Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work, Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position and is a past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: firstname.lastname@example.org To follow Pini on Twitter: Follow @pinih