In UK, Younger Jews “More Religious” Than Older Jews

UK JewryA landmark new study published this week by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research demonstrates that younger Jews are now more religious than older Jews in the UK, challenging many long-held assumptions about the future of Jewish life.

The report, entitled “Jews in the United Kingdom in 2013: Preliminary findings from the National Jewish Community Survey”, shows that, in general, the younger Jews are, the more likely they are to keep Shabbat, observe the laws of kashrut and celebrate Jewish festivals.

JPR Executive Director, Dr Jonathan Boyd, one of the co-authors of the report, commented:

“This is a highly significant finding. For several decades the Jewish community has worried about whether the young will have strong enough Jewish identities to pass on to their children and grandchildren. We now have evidence to suggest that, overall, younger Jews today may actually be better placed to achieve that than the generations that preceded them.”

But the authors warn that this finding may have less to do with decades of investment in Jewish education, and more to do with demographic trends. They argue that high birth rates among the most Orthodox members of the community mean that an increasing proportion of Jews in the UK is being born into Orthodox homes. This phenomenon has been going on for long enough now to begin to see an overall related increase in religiosity at the younger end of the age spectrum.

“By ‘most Orthodox’, we don’t simply mean haredim in Stamford Hill and Broughton Park” explains Boyd. “The demographic growth among the most Orthodox in Golders Green and Hendon is also having an effect, and is helping to turn the widely-accepted narrative about younger Jews on its head.”

However, the report also demonstrates that this new trend cannot be applied to all aspects of Jewish identity. Notably, younger people are less likely than older people to feel that supporting Israel or combating antisemitism are very important parts of their Jewish identity. In general, the survey shows that the new age gradient applies primarily to measures of traditional religious practice, rather than to the more ethnic or cultural aspects of being Jewish.

The National Jewish Community Survey (NJCS) is part of a major JPR research initiative, supported by a wide range of Jewish charities and foundations, to provide Jewish leaders from across the denominational spectrum with the data they need to plan for the community’s future. Designed to be used alongside data from the 2011 UK Census, it constitutes part of a new “treasure trove” of information now available.

Among other key findings, the report shows that:

  • Denominational switching’ over the course of people’s lives is affecting the overall balance in the community, with particularly clear evidence of movement away from Orthodoxy and towards more religiously liberal or secular positions. This movement, combined with the demographic growth among the most Orthodox, is causing a shakeout of the traditional mainstream middle ground in the UK Jewish community;
  • Overall, Jews are more likely to make donations to non-Jewish charities than to Jewish ones, and, of those who give, one in four only donates to non-Jewish charities. On the other hand, almost one in ten only donates to Jewish charities, and larger donations tend to be made to Jewish charities more than non-Jewish charities;
  • A quarter of all married Jews in the UK today has a non-Jewish partner, but the steep rise in the prevalence of intermarriage that took place up to the 1990s has slowed considerably and is now almost flat;
  • Seven out of ten people in the 65-plus age group say they would like to be cared for in a Jewish elderly care home. However, there are signs that they differ on the question of the Jewish nature of that home, with just over half desiring a care home with kosher facilities and just under a half preferring a home with a Jewish ethos but not necessarily with kosher facilities;
  • Most Jewish parents – including those who send their children to non-Jewish schools – believe that Jewish schools help strengthen children’s Jewish identity. Yet the proportion of non-observant parents who opt to send their children to Jewish schools appears to be approaching a peak, raising questions about the take up of Jewish school places going forward.

You can download the complete report “Jews in the UK in 2013” here.