Thursday, February 08, 2007

interesting new jewish population study

Hat tip to for a post that links to a Brandeis’ University study on Jewish population in the US. I’m not much interested in the science of demographics and how exactly you count heads, but some of the results are interesting. The Brandeis study claims that earlier studies overestimated the # of Orthodox Jews and overestimated the # of Jews receiving a day school education, and is critical of the NJPS survey of 2000 for undercounting the non-Orthodox. One interesting statistic (footnote 21 on p. 37) is the claim that over 80% of those who identify as Orthodox Jews were born and raised into Orthodox families. The survey considers this a lack of evidence of an upsurge in Orthodoxy. I guess that conclusion depends on your perspective, because to me the statistic that 1 out of every 4 Orthodox Jews are ba’alei tshuvah who chose to return to or embrace Orthodoxy without being raised in an Orthodox home is a very significant number. Yes, far larger numbers of Jews raised in Conservative homes switch to identifying as Reform Jews, but that simply reflects a loosening of commitment, not a choice of Reform philosophy over that of the Conservative movement; the choice to become Orthodox is clearly a commitment to greater religious practice and observance. Also interesting is the finding that esp. among Orthodox, there is a population bulge among 18-29 year olds, 53% of whom are married (shidduch crises?) compared with only 18% among non-Orthodox peers (who they claim have been undercounted). The conclusion I draw is that the Orthodox population is younger, larger, and bound to continue to grow (marrying younger increases your odds of being able to have a large family) faster than other segments of the Jewish world. I haven't read the full study too carefully, so have a look if you want more detail.

Update: After posting, I noticed this review of the survey from They are a bit harsh, but many of the criticisms strike me as valid.


  1. kishnevi8:59 PM

    Is your math failing you? If 1 in 4 are BTs, then 75 percent of Orthodox were raised in Orthodox homes. Which, give the conditions of these surveys, is probably not that much a discrepancy from the 80 percent figure you quote.

    But that's only if you count as BT anyone who was raised as Reform or Conservative and now identifies as Orthodox. My own encounters suggest there is a significant number of people who have significantly raised the level of their observance, or have joined Orthodox synagogues for external reasons (as a Conservative who joins a Young Israel congregation), but are not BT's in the fullest sense. That is, they are more observant, but not frum.
    In that case, the statistics should diverge more sharply.

  2. >>>Is your math failing you?

    I was not challenging their numbers, just the conclusion. The survey says that 1 in 4 is not a significant number - I think it is.

    You are right - I shouldn't have used the term BT. Identifying as Orthodox was (I think) the term the survey used. But I still think that is a significant statement.