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A report released Thursday provides a comprehensive insight into the British Jewish community and reveals that, even more than for their fellow Britons, the nuclear family is no longer a normative model for UK Jews.
The report, "Jews in Britain: A Snapshot from the 2001 Census," is based on a comprehensive analysis of responses from the first ever (voluntary) census question on religion, asked in 2001's national survey. It was published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London, with help from the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
The census reported that 270,499 Britons identified themselves as "Jewish." The community is composed of a "collection of multiple subgroups defined in myriad ways," according to the report.
David Graham, principal author of the report and research consultant to the Board of Deputies, told The Jerusalem Post: "Our understanding of... British Jewish population has been revolutionized."
"For the first time, we have a broad perspective of the complexity of the Jewish community," he said.
A higher proportion of Jews than in almost any other religious or ethnic group live in single-person households. This, together with the large number of mixed Jewish-gentile households, compels a rethink of the nature of the Jewish community, according to the researchers.
More young Jews live alone, more couples live together without children and/or marriage, and more households contain both Jewish and non-Jewish members than ever before. The picture is further complicated by the numbers of people who are divorced, separated or remarried.
Although the 2001 census did not report an intermarriage rate, the analysis did reveal that 72 percent of married or cohabiting Jews had a Jewish partner, while 19% had a non-Jewish partner.
However, 68% of those cohabiting had a partner who was not Jewish.
"Overall, intermarriage, more accurately Jew-to-non-Jew partnerships, is still relatively uncommon. But certain groups, especially cohabiters, show clear signs that strongly suggest change is on the way," Graham said.
While British Jewry as a whole is aging, a young haredi population is bucking that trend. The study indicated that the demographic makeup of British Jewry, and probably its religious structure, will be very different in a generation.
While Jews, according to the study, are no longer an "immigrant group," even in 2001 nearly one in five Jews in England and Wales were born outside the British Isles. Of those, the three largest groups hailed from Israel, the US and South Africa.
Jews have high levels of education, far outranking the national average and all other subgroups.
The remarkable success of Jewish women in the workplace was also acknowledged in the report. Not only do they outperform women in the general population, they are doing better than men on average.
The Jewish population enjoys generally high living standards, but significant social inequality was evident. The report said that 77% of Jewish households own their own home, compared with 69% of the general population.
Many British Jews chose to describe their ethnicity as "Jewish," despite the nationality-based approach of the census. A sizable number preferred to describe their background or "upbringing," rather than their religion, as Jewish.
"We... had little idea of the extent of diversity," said Antony Lerman, director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said there was a need to study the report and to see how the Jews "who, for all sorts of reasons, live outside the nuclear family model, can remain connected to the community."