U.S. Jewish Population Substantially Larger Than Previously Estimated

American Jewish population 2012

How does the Jewish population compare to others in this region? Image courtesy SSRI

The Steinhardt Social Reseach Institute (SSRI) and Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University have released new estimates of the American Jewish population.

The accumulated evidence indicates that the U.S. Jewish population is substantially larger than previously estimated.

The study utilizes a data synthesis approach to yield estimates of the size and characteristics of the American Jewish population – the proportion of U.S. adults who claim Judaism as their religion, the number of secular/cultural Jews (i.e., Jews who identify other than by religion), and the number of children.

Key Findings:

There are an estimated 6.8 million Jewish adults and children in the United States

  • 4.2 million adults self-identify as Jewish when asked about their religion
  • Nearly 1 million adults consider themselves Jewish by background and other criteria
  • There are an estimated 1.6 million Jewish children

The U.S. Jewish population is concentrated in a few number of states and metropolitan areas

  • Over 40% of American Jews live in just six states. Slightly over 20% resides in New York State, 14% in California, followed by 12% in Florida; 8% in New Jersey; and 5% each in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania
  • The largest percentage resides in New York City (13%), with the next largest in Southern Florida (Miami, Palm Beach and Broward counties; 8.6%). New York suburban areas (Long Island and Westchester) account for 7% of the total population. Los Angeles County (including Ventura and Orange counties) accounts for just over 7% of the total population
  • Additional centers include Boston (including western Massachusetts areas), Northern New Jersey, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington DC.

Among adults who self-identify as Jewish by religion

  • Just over 1 million (24%) are aged 65 years and older
  • They are more than twice as likely as other Americans to be college graduates

With the study release, SSRI has introduced an interactive website that maps the U.S. Jewish population.

The complete report, American Jewish Population Estimates: 2012, is available for download.

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Comments

  1. Laura Klein says

    The statistics are interesting but with a headline of “U.S. Jewish Population Substantially Larger Than Previously Estimated”, it would be nice to know what the previous estimate had been.

  2. Dan Brown says

    One of the more widely quoted numbers is from Hebrew University professor Sergio DellaPergola – 5,425,000.

  3. says

    This number has come up before – it’s from Leonard Saxe. There are some who agree with his methodology, while some (myself included) believe that DellaPergola is much closer to the mark. In the article it says that of the 6.8 million total, nearly one million adults “consider themselves Jewish by background or some other criteria.” That’s an extremely broad definition that can include people of Jewish ancestry who Judaism would not define as Jewish and the people themselves may claim another religion (from another study, we know that there are over a million Christians in the U.S. of Jewish descent). If the American Jewish population truly is growing, that’s great news. But it would be surprising, given several other well-established trends that negatively affect Jewish population growth. It’s important that we comparing apples to apples and not claiming a growing Jewish population simply by casting a wider net.

  4. Dan Brown says

    Yes, the never-ending battle of the social scientists – in this corner Saxe, opposite DellaPergola.

    Two points, with today’s release by the independent Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project and a population number just 200k below the Brandeis study, overwhelming research is closer to the Saxe number than the DellaPergola one.

    More important, when DellaPergola states – as he most recently did at a Hebrew U. conference in August – that with Israel’s birthrate what it is, it would be impossible for the U.S. to have a greater Jewish population than Israel, even a non-scientist like myself wonders if he isn’t massaging his methodology to achieve a certain result.

  5. says

    Some very fair points, Dan. Although, I’m not sure I would agree that overwhelming research is closer to Saxe. There is much research that corroborates DellaPergola’s research, and some of the research that supports Saxe isn’t methodologically sound (e.g. Sheshkin’s combining locals Jewish community surveys to come up with a number that is close to Saxe’s – but each community used a different methodology, there is substantial doublecounting with northern and sunbelt communities each counting the same person who lives there part-time, and some of the community studies used going back as much as 30 years or more).

    In any event, what strikes me about the Pew findings are not the numbers as much as the trends. There is always a question of who and who not to count and everyone draws the line in a different place. But clearly, when we are counting large numbers of people who have Jewish ancestry but are saying they don’t practice Judaism, don’t affiliate with the Jewish community, and are not raising their kids with Judaism (as the Pew study finds, and others including Saxe have found before) – then even if we are counting all of them as Jews it’s quite clear that a very large portion of their progeny will not be part of the Jewish community. Saxe may believe that the U.S. Jewish community is going to top 7 million, but virtually every study has found that the high Orthodox birthrate is not the case with the rest of the Jewish population, and that the rest of the population is aging – which makes it hard to understand what, specifically Saxe’s belief is based on.

    I agree that Della Pergola may have his particular biases (as does Saxe – any time a survey has come along showing a stronger Orthodox community, Saxe who happens to be Reform, insists they’re being overcounted). But if I read the quote correctly from the EJewishPhilanthropy article, Della Pergola did not say simply that it’s impossible for the U.S. Jewish population to be higher than Israel’s, but that that finding is not consistent with what we know about birthrates in both communities. That’s more than a bias – it’s a calculation that leads to a different conclusion based on what we actually know about birthrates. Which I think leads to the bottom line – it’s really not that important which community is bigger or smaller right now. What’s much more important is the very clear trend lines that have emerged. We know that Israel’s Jewish population is increasing consistently by about 100,000 per year, so barring some unforseen change in the pattern, we can predict pretty accurately what Israel’s Jewish population will be in a few years. At the same time, as Saxe, Pew and others have all found, whatever the actual number of U.S. Jews, there are several forces at work that I think strongly suggest large portions of that number will not be part of the Jewish community in a generation (there already are over 1 million U.S. Christians of Jewish ancestry). If there are more U.S. Jews than we thought, but many aren’t raising their kids as Jews, many aren’t getting married, many who are married are not having kids or having few kids, etc., and the overall Jewish population continues to age, that all has easily identifiable ramifications for what the future population is likely to be.

  6. Robert Jacobs says

    Garbage. Add it all up and you still only get some 6 million total. No change for over 50 years.

  7. David says

    The findings are certainly eye-catching. However, I think they buried the lead: 4.2 million identify themselves as Jewish. That’s the number, folks. The rest are choosing to vote with their feet.

  8. Ethan Coane says

    A seemingly insignificant percentage of the U.S. population that is so influential and contributes so much in so many fields out of all proportion to its numbers, I don’t even fully understand why. This is what makes me proud to be a Jew, albeit a secular one. Makes one wonder what contributions the world might have lost with the near-extinction of the European Jewish community in the ’40’s.

  9. Robert Gurevich says

    We can quibble about the numbers but we cannot quibble about the trends. These are far from encouraging. For me the real issue is what we can do about them. Strategy is fundamentally a social science issue closely linked to issues of religion (which segment(s) of Judaism?), belief, culture, ethnicity, identity and history etc. It is uniquely an issue of Judaism in America – where we live in a society that is fundamentally tolerant as compared with the situation in other parts of the contemporary world as well the historical condition of Jews in the diaspora.

    Bob Gurevich

  10. Robert Gurevich says

    While we can quibble about the numbers, we cannot quibble about the trends. The real question is what do we do about these trends? That is fundamentally a social science question with important components addressing religious belief(s), culture, ethnicity, identity, history etc. Moreover, we have to consider the relatively unique situation of Jews in North America (US and Canada) where we live in a pluralistic society that is tolerant of diversity – as compared with a historical (and sometimes contemporary) situation in the diaspora of intolerance. What steps should we take?

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