PJ Library Family Study: How 25,000 Families Experience Jewish Life in the U.S. and Canada

By Winnie Sandler Grinspoon

Over the past decade, more than 250,000 families in North America have signed up their children to receive free Jewish-themed books and resources each month from PJ Library®.

At a time when religious affiliation is down by traditional measures across faiths, why is a Jewish program for children attracting so many followers?

The Harold Grinspoon Foundation recently commissioned an independent evaluation to find out. Who are these families? What is it about this Jewish program that is drawing them in and keeping them in? Knowing who PJ Library’s “customers” are and how they experience the program helps guide its development. Like any supplier, we aim to produce a great product and achieve high customer satisfaction.

At the same time, we are investors with a mission. The return we look for is greater engagement in Jewish life, both in the home and in the community. Our foundation and our many partners are making a significant financial investment in PJ Library because we believe the program can accomplish this goal. Every three years we commission an independent evaluation to learn how our investment in PJ Library is doing.

The findings of the evaluation, “From Jewish Books to Jewish Life: Results from PJ Library’s 2016 Triennial Family Study,” by Informing Change, are now available. While the study was designed to evaluate one particular program, many of the findings will be of interest to the broader Jewish community. With responses from 25,270 families (a 20% survey response rate), the study gives us information from what may be the largest number of families raising young children surveyed in the North American Jewish community. Beyond sheer size, the study provides some important findings. Below are some key highlights:

PJ Library parents are not squarely in the millennial generation

The average age of a PJ Library parent is 38 years old. In fact, only 5% of parents are in their 20s. Many organizations and corporations are targeting millennial parents (born after 1980) in their efforts to reach parents raising young children, but the PJ Library study tells us that we are speaking to an older cohort. In the Jewish community, we need to consider Generation X trends and tendencies when marketing to parents raising young children and in the design of our program offerings.

2in5 Families have a family member who did not grow up Jewish

Similar to our 2013 PJ Library evaluation findings, approximately a quarter of PJ Library families (28%) identify as intermarried (one parent identifies as Jewish, one parent does not). In addition, 16% of families responded affirmatively to a newly added question that asked if their family has a member who is Jewish by choice. Across these two categories, 42% of PJ Library families include one family member who did not grow up Jewish, whether or not they are Jewish today. Many parents who are raising Jewish children in the United States and Canada do not have the experiences, reference points, and associations with Jewish life from their own childhoods to guide them as they engage with their children around Jewish topics and practices.

PJ Library is a valuable Jewish parenting tool, especially for intermarried families

Eighty-three percent of all survey respondents said that PJ Library has increased their confidence in engaging with their children on Jewish topics. This number grows even higher – to 94% – when looking exclusively at intermarried families. Seventy-five percent of all survey respondents said that PJ Library has increased their knowledge of Jewish values and traditions; the percentage rises to 88% for intermarried families. Similarly, intermarried families are more likely to say PJ Library influenced their decision to celebrate Jewish holidays and learn more about Judaism. Intermarried parents also report a higher rate of engagement with the reading guide book flaps that provide more information about the Jewish themes, customs, or practices reflected in each book.

PJ Library families want more connection with the Jewish community

Engaging families “beyond the books” and other materials sent each month in the PJ envelope is important to PJ Library’s success, and it is made possible by partners such as Jewish federations, JCCs, and other community-based organizations that run PJ Library on the ground and provide outreach efforts and programming for families with young children. Each year we see our community partners offering high-quality events for families with young children, and these events are having a positive impact. Almost half (47%) of PJ Library families reported attending events for families with young children offered in their Jewish communities in the prior year, usually a few times a year. Families enjoyed these events; 75% are very likely to recommend them to a friend. What’s more, of these families that attended events, 83% are interested in getting even more connected to local Jewish organizations, activities and/or people. The local community engagement activities are creating opportunities for connection with other Jewish families through community events and engagement opportunities.

PJ Library influences some families to make larger investments in Jewish life

Many PJ Library families reported that PJ Library influenced them to enroll their children in the following other Jewish experiences that require financial and time investments: a Jewish summer day or overnight camp (28%); a Jewish after-school or weekend program (28%); a Jewish early education program (27%). Additionally, PJ Library influenced 17% of families to enroll their children in a Jewish day school. With over 120,000 families currently subscribing to PJ Library, these percentages reflect a large number of families being influenced to some degree by PJ Library to make larger investments in their children’s Jewish experiences. This is important news for the community.

PJ Library is resonating with families of varying types

The PJ Library subscriber base spans a broad range of families. It includes families that identify with one or more of the following family subgroups: multi-racial (7%), Russian speaking (6%), single parent (6%), have a child with a disability (4%), have a family member who identifies as LGBTQI (3%), or have children being raised by grandparents or other adults (1%). The study tells us that the PJ Library experience – from satisfaction with the books and resources, to PJ Library’s influence on Jewish practice in the home, to interest in getting more connected to the Jewish community – does not differ dramatically among any of these family subgroups.

There is much more to reflect on in these survey results, and we will continue to share them with the community over the coming weeks and months. We are providing each of the nearly 200 PJ Library organizational partners with community-specific reports to help them use the data to drive their engagement strategies.

From our perspective, the findings confirm some of what we expected to see and also provide insights that are new and informative. They also confirm that our foundation’s investment in this project is yielding the kind of results we are looking for.

Winnie Sandler Grinspoon is the President of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. To view the executive summary of PJ Library’s 2016 family study, please visit pjlibrary.org/familysurvey. For questions about the results or methodology, please email familysurvey@pjlibrary.org.