Pew's Big Survey Of Jewish Americans

Estimated Size Of The Jewish Population

The Pew Center has published a long report, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, on the first major survey of Jews in America in a long time. This is a fairly exhausting task to take on, since there is a small sample size of Jews so standard random surveys don't work well, Jewish organizations have strong opinions on the subject of Jewish demographics (the list of acknowledgments is endless), and so many people have different opinions on (as the title of the second chapter says) "Who is a Jew?"

Pew came up with a little under 1.8% of the American adult population being "Jewish by religion" (presumably including converts). You don't have to be terribly religious to fit into this category: 31% of the Jews by religion attend synagogue never or less often than yearly.

Another 0.5% of the U.S. population are "Jews of no religion" (even though a majority of those identify as only partly Jewish. Lumping them together, Pew comes up with 2.2% of the adult population being Jewish. Oddly enough, that's the same number as the last couple of surveys over the last two decades. (That finding tends to cut down on the number of "Jews in Decline" headlines.)

Interestingly, another 1.0% of the population is "Jewish Background." But, they don't get counted as Jewish by the Pew Center. These are primarily people of Christian faith who have at least one Jewish parent. Among this group, 73% identify wholly or partly as Jewish, and 28% of them made a donation to a Jewish group within the last year, but that's not good enough. Apparently, the rule that the Pew Center came up with, after all its deliberations with Jewish leaders, is that people of no religion are fine being counted as Jews, even if they only partly identify as Jews, but professing a non-Jewish religion is a dealbreaker. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli would have disagreed, but this is 21st Century America so the standards are not as lax as in Queen Victoria's time.

Finally, another 0.5% of the population falls into the "Jewish Affinity" category. This appears to consist of people like the late Christopher Hitchens and various other eccentrics. 

Here are the Pew rules:

- Jews by religion – people who say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion); 

- Jews of no religion – people who describe themselves (religiously) as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way. 

These first two groups constitute, for the purposes of this analysis, the “net” Jewish population. In addition, the survey interviewed: 

- Non-Jewish people of Jewish background – 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; 

- Non-Jewish people with a Jewish affinity – people who identify with another religion (in most cases, Christianity) or with no religion and who neither have a Jewish parent nor were raised Jewish but who nevertheless consider themselves Jewish in some way. Some say, for example, that they consider themselves partly Jewish because Jesus was Jewish, because “we all come from Abraham” or because they have Jewish friends or relatives. 

Most of this report focuses on the net Jewish population (Jews by religion and Jews of no religion). Whenever the views or characteristics of U.S. Jews (or just “Jews”) are discussed, this refers to the combined categories of Jews by religion and Jews of no religion.

There is a ton of information in this report. Here's an interesting table on education and income that I wouldn't have guessed, but makes sense now that I see it:

Jewish Education And Income

The highest income Jewish denomination (is that the right word?) is Modern Orthodox, who also have the highest percentage of college graduates. 37% have a household income of $150,000 or higher, and 65% have a B.A. or better.

The highest income gentile denomination are white Catholics, where 13% of households claim that income level. Both Catholics and Jews tend to live in larger urban areas with higher costs of living and higher incomes. Note that income and wealth aren't the same thing: Catholics tend to be lacking in trust funds. According to Pew, mainline white Protestants are just ahead of white Catholics in college education.

There is much else of interest.