US Jewish population is underestimated, says Brandeis study

Report estimates that there are currently some 6.8 million Jews in the United States.

Australians and Americans discuss Jewish peoplehood 521 (photo credit: Laura Kelly)
Australians and Americans discuss Jewish peoplehood 521
(photo credit: Laura Kelly)
A study conducted by researchers at Brandeis University has concluded that America’s Jewish population may be larger than previously assumed.
The report, American Jewish Population Estimates: 2012, estimates that there are currently some 6.8 million Jews in the United States, comprising more than 1.8 percent of the country’s total adult population.
More than 4.2 million adult Americans identified their religion as Judaism, according to the researchers and “nearly 1 million adults consider themselves Jewish by background and other criteria.”
“The number of adults who consider Judaism their religion was more than 33% higher than the parallel number observed in the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01,” according to the report.
Additionally, researchers estimated that there are some 1.6 million Jewish children.
Geographically, American Jewry is overwhelmingly urban, with 97% of Jews “concentrated primarily in metropolitan areas.”
A concentration of 40% of American Jews live in “just six states,” the report found, with just over 20% living in New York, followed by 14% in California, 12% in Florida, 8% in New Jersey and 5% each in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania respectively.
Given an intermarriage rate of almost 50%, it is unclear how many of the children or those considered Jewish by background listed in the report would be considered as such according to the traditional Talmudic requirement of matrilineal descent accepted by both the Orthodox and Conservative streams.
Calling Jewish identity “complex and fluid,” the report observed that “Individuals express their Judaism in a variety ways and, for example, identifying as a Jew by religion does not mean that you practice Judaism. Similarly, some who are secular may engage in a variety of Jewish religious practices.”
Addressing critiques by those have have suggested that their “approach overestimates the size of the population and are not in line with demographic projections that were derived from the original 1970 survey” that established a baseline for future demographic studies of the US Jewish population, the researchers said that disparities in estimates of the size of the Russian immigrant population and other such factors have had “a significant impact on estimates.”
“One particular change since the 1970 survey that could contribute to an increase in Jewish identification was the Reform Movement’s Resolution on Patrilineal Descent,” they added.
This motion established the Reform movement’s criteria that “the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent.”
Moreover, they charged, “willingness to identify as Jewish when asked in a survey may be increasing simply due to the fewer barriers to admitting to be Jewish” as barriers to social integration have disappeared in recent decades.
Commenting on the population statistics, Dan Brown of eJewishPhilanthropy told The Jerusalem Post that “looking strictly at the numbers, the SSRI [Steinhardt Social Research Institute] study shows the American Jewish community is growing. This should temper some of the concerns raised by the last National Jewish Population Study (2000). It should also help fill the void created by the absence of any subsequent national study.”