Saturday, February 01, 2014

Taking a Look at the American Jewish Community – “Just the Facts, Ma’am”

Fans of Treasure Island think of “Pew” as blind.  But fans of religion think of Pew, or at least they should think of Pew, as helping us all to see.  I am referring to the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan, non-ideological group that invariably disseminates some of the most extensive, illuminating survey data available regarding a range of religious topics.  Today, I would like to honor that organization and enlighten you by summarizing some of the more interesting data from Pew’s 2013 survey entitled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.”  It was based on data from thousands of participants taken between February and June of 2013.   

If you want to read the entire survey, you can find it here:

If you want a quick summary of “the facts, just the facts,” I am happy to oblige.

American Jews are less fertile, on average, than non-Jewish Americans.  The number of children per adults who are 40-59 is 1.9 for Jews, 2.2 for the U.S. population at large, and 2.4 for U.S. Catholics.
Adult American Jews also tend to be way better compensated.   Twenty five percent earn over $150,000 annually, 56% earn over $75,000, and only 31% earn under $50,000.  By contrast, for the nation at large, those numbers would be 8%, 29%, and 56% respectively.    Similarly, the percentage of Jewish adults who are college graduates is 58%, which is twice the national average.

Adult American Jews tend to believe in God, though less overwhelmingly than the nation as a whole.  Specifically, “believers” represent 72% of the adult Jewish population, compared to 92% of the U.S. adult population.  Of Jews who are 18-29, 68% say that they believe in God.

Adult American Jews who regularly attend religious services are the exceptions, not the norm.  Only 23% attend services once a month or more. 

What are American Jews doing when they are not at religious services?  Perhaps they are looking at Christmas trees.  Thirty-two percent of adult American Jews live in homes with Christmas trees, and that number grows to 37% if only Jews who are 18-49 are included. 

Why do so many Jews, and especially younger Jews, have Christmas trees?  Consider that among Jews who got married after 2000, 58% married non-Jews.  By contrast, among Jews who got married before 1970, that number was only 17%.  

You can also see pretty dramatic changes among Jews’ affiliations with specific religious movements.  In America today, 35% of Jews are Reform, 18% Conservative, 10% Orthodox and 30% have no affiliation.  (The others identify with additional movements, such as Reconstructionism.)  However, among Jews who are 18-29, only 11 percent are Conservative and 41 percent are affiliated with no religious movement.

Politically, Jews are disproportionately more liberal and less conservative than the U.S. population at large.  Specifically, 49% of Jews call themselves liberal, 29% moderate, and 19% conservative.  For the U.S. generally, the analogous numbers are 21, 36 and 38.   Accordingly, it should not be surprising that when it comes to whether people accept or discourage homosexuality, 82% of Jews are accepting, as compared to 57% of the U.S. population generally and 46% of American Protestants.    Similarly, 54% of Jews support relatively big government and only 38% percent support relatively small government; for the general U.S. population, those numbers shift to 40 and 51, respectively.

On the subject of Israel, the majority of both young adult American Jews and older adult Jews continue to report that they feel “very” or “somewhat” attached to Israel.    Indeed, 87% of adult American Jews and 81% of Jews who are 18-29 say that caring about Israel is an important or essential part of being Jewish.  

American adult Jews tend not to believe that Israel was given to Jews by God – only 40% are of that opinion.  Notably, the percentage of U.S. Protestants who believe that statement is 64.

When asked if there is a way for an Israeli and Palestinian state to co-exist peacefully, 61% of American adult Jews replied in the affirmative – compared to only 49% of American Protestants.  American Jews who are 18-29 are especially optimistic: 70% believe that a peaceful two-state solution is possible.  

Still, adult Jewish Americans are skeptical about the efforts that the Israeli government and Palestinian leadership have made to date in order to bring about peace.  Only 38% of adult American Jews believe that the Israeli government has made a sincere effort to bring about peace, and only 12% believe that the Palestinian leadership has made such an effort.   Notably, those numbers change to 26 and 18, respectively, when Jews who are 18-29 are polled and to 45 and 8, respectively, when Jews over 65 are polled. 

When it comes to the West Bank settlements, adult American Jews of all ages report that these settlements are much more likely to hurt Israeli security than help its security.  Overall, only 17% of adult American Jews believe that the settlements are helpful to Israeli security, whereas 44% believe that they are hurtful.    

Finally, on the issue of whether the American government is too supportive of Israel, appropriately supportive of Israel, or not supportive enough, a majority of adult American Jews believe that the support level is appropriate.  Notably, however, fully 25% of American Jews who are 18-29 believe that America is too supportive, whereas for American Jews over 65, that number falls all the way to 5%.

There you have it folks – facts, figures and no philosophy.   Jack Webb would be proud.  But I’m going to look into the mirror to see if I’m still there.

Enjoy the Super Bowl tomorrow.

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