The Jewish population in the United States is significantly larger than previously estimated. In the presentation “U.S. Jewry 2010: Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Population,” given at the Association for Jewish Studies meeting in Boston on December 20th, Leonard Saxe (Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies) reported that rather than declining, the Jewish population has been increasing since 1990. NJPS 2000-01, the last national Jewish population study sponsored by the United Jewish Communities (currently, the Jewish Federations of North America), found that the U.S. Jewish population had declined by 300,000 during the 1990-2000 period. Saxe and his colleagues found that the Jewish population has actually risen from about 5.5 million individuals in 1990 to an estimated 6.5 million as of 2010, an increase of nearly 20%.
The new population data were drawn from a synthesis of data from more than 150 nationwide surveys conducted by the U.S. government and other agencies as well as national polling organizations. All of the surveys included standard questions about religious and ethnic identity and had national samples of respondents. Together, the surveys included responses from more than 400,000 individuals.
The Steinhardt Social Research Institute also conducted a parallel study of a sample of 1400 Jews who are part of a panel of nearly 50,000 Americans developed by the respected polling firm, Knowledge Networks. The results of this survey reveal that more than 80% of those who indicate that they are Jewish identify as Jewish by religion. The remaining individuals identify as Jewish by some other criteria.
Among the findings:
- The number of adult Jews (age 18 or older) who identify as being Jewish by religion is slightly more than 4.2 million, while those under 18 in the same category number 1.27 million. The number of Jews who identify as Jewish by other criteria is almost 975,000.
- Forty-four percent of those who consider themselves Jewish by religion reported that they or someone in their household belongs to a synagogue compared to only four percent of those who are Jewish not by religion.
- Those who are Jewish by religion participated in greater numbers in Jewish lifecycle events than those Jewish not by religion. The percentages of attending a brit or Jewish baby naming ceremony were 15 versus 3 percent; 33 versus 10 percent for attending a bar/bat mitzvah; 22 versus 12 percent for attending a Jewish wedding; and 35 versus 9 percent for making a shiva call.
- The chance of marrying a Jewish partner was significantly greater among those Jewish by religion compared to those who identify as Jewish by other criteria. Among 18 to 29-year-olds, 50 percent married a Jew. None of those Jewish not by religion in this age group married a Jew. Among those 30 to 34-years-old, the figures were 62 versus 12 percent; among 45 to 59-years old, 56 versus 31 percent; and over 60-years-old, 72 versus 19 percent.
Elizabeth Tighe, D. Livert, M. Barnett, and L. Saxe. 2010. Cross-Survey Analysis to Estimate Low-Incidence Religious Groups, Sociological Methods and Research, Sociological Methods and Research 39 (1): 56-82.