May 11, 2021

Jewish Americans in 2020

4. Marriage, families and children

About two-thirds of U.S. Jewish adults are either married (59%) or living with a partner (7%). Among those who are married, many have spouses who are not Jewish. Fully 42% of all currently married Jewish respondents indicate they have a non-Jewish spouse. Among those who have gotten married since 2010, 61% are intermarried.

At the same time, intermarriage is very rare among Orthodox Jews: 98% of Orthodox Jews who are married say their spouse is Jewish. If one excludes the Orthodox and looks only at non-Orthodox Jews who have gotten married since 2010, 72% are intermarried.

The survey finds that among married Jews who are currently parents of minor children in their household, those who have a Jewish spouse are far more likely than those who are intermarried to say they are raising their children as Jewish by religion. And among married Jews overall (not just parents), those who are intermarried are less likely than those with a Jewish spouse to say it is very important to them that their potential grandchildren be Jewish.

However, as previously noted in the Overview of this report, statistical analysis also shows that Jews ages 18 to 49 who have one Jewish parent are more likely than those ages 50 and older to describe themselves as Jewish. In other words, it appears that the offspring of intermarriages have become increasingly likely to identify as Jewish in adulthood.

In addition to finding that intermarriage is more common among U.S. Jews who have married in recent years than among those who married decades ago, the survey also suggests that interracial/ethnic marriage has been rising over time among Jewish Americans. And 2% of Jews who are married now indicate that their spouse is of the same sex.

Most U.S. Jews – with the exception of the Orthodox – say that rabbis should perform interfaith weddings. The same is true for same-sex weddings.

This chapter also looks at how current Jews who have minor children living in their households say they are raising those children, as well as how Jewish adults they say they were raised when they were children, including what kinds of formal Jewish education they received. For instance, about half of Jewish adults who were raised Jewish or had a Jewish parent say they had a bar or bat mitzvah (a Jewish coming of age ceremony) when they were young, and about four-in-ten attended a summer camp with Jewish content.

Intermarriage is common among American Jews

Rates of religious intermarriage can be calculated in a variety of ways, which can result in confusion when making comparisons among studies. For example, some focus on the percentage of couples who are intermarried, rather than the percentage of Jewish individuals who are married to a person of a different faith; a couples intermarriage rate is always higher, because two Jews who are married to each other count as one couple, while two Jews who are intermarried count as two couples. Additionally, researchers can base their calculations on whether a couple had the same religion at the time of their marriage, or whether they have the same religion at present. In theory, one could even try to calculate rates based on all previous marriages, including those that ended in divorces or deaths – though in practice, asking respondents to describe their previous marriages may be perceived as intrusive, and this study did not attempt to do so. Finally, the same considerations that go into defining which respondents are Jewish (see Overview) come into play when deciding which spouses are Jewish.

One-third of married Jews by religion have a non-Jewish spouseFor all these reasons, it is important to specify that this analysis focuses on current, intact marriages among individual Jewish respondents at the time of this survey. It relies on the respondents’ descriptions of the religion of their spouses at the time of the survey (the spouses were not interviewed separately). And it defines spouses as Jewish in the same way that respondents are categorized, including both Jews by religion and those who identify as Jewish in other ways.

As of 2020, the survey indicates that about six-in-ten U.S. Jewish adults are married (59%), and an additional 7% are living with a partner. As was the case in 2013, Jews by religion are more likely than Jews of no religion to say they currently are married (62% vs. 50%). And Jewish adults are more likely than U.S. adults overall to be married (59% vs. 53%).

The 2020 survey also finds that 58% of all married Jews say they have a Jewish spouse, while 42% say they are married to a non-Jew. That overall intermarriage rate has not changed much in the last seven years. In the 2013 study, 56% of all married Jewish respondents said their spouse was Jewish, while 44% said they were married to someone who was not Jewish.

Jews of no religion are much more likely than Jews by religion to have a spouse who is not Jewish. Among all Jews by religion who are married, 68% have a Jewish spouse. By comparison, 21% of Jews of no religion who are married say their spouse is Jewish, while 79% report that they are married to someone who is not Jewish.

Intermarriage rates are lower among respondents who married decades ago. For example, among U.S. Jews who got married before 1980 and are still married, 18% are married to non-Jews. Among those who married between 1980 and 1999, about four-in-ten are intermarried. And among respondents whose current, intact marriage began in 2010 or later, 61% have a non-Jewish spouse. This pattern mirrors the findings from the 2013 survey.

While these patterns strongly suggest that intermarriage has been rising, especially over the long term, it is important to bear in mind several points when assessing rates of Jewish intermarriage. First, religious intermarriage also appears to be on the rise in the U.S. adult population more broadly. Second, some research indicates that “in-marriages” (marriages between people of the same religion) tend to be more durable than intermarriages. If this is the case, then the percentage of intermarriages in the 1970s and 1980s may have been higher than it appears from looking only at intact marriages today.

Third, the relatively small size of the U.S. Jewish population should be taken into account. If marital choices were purely random, the odds of one Jewish American marrying another Jewish American would be much smaller than the odds of one Protestant marrying another Protestant or one Catholic marrying another Catholic, since these Christian groups make up much larger shares of the overall population.22 For this reason, rates of intermarriage among Jews are perhaps most directly comparable to rates of intermarriage among other relatively small U.S. religious groups, such as Mormons and Muslims. Previous Pew Research Center surveys have found that compared with Jews, larger shares of Mormons (85%) and Muslims (87%) in the United States are married to someone with the same religion.

One-in-ten married Jews by religion, one-in-six married Jews of no religion are in interracial/ethnic marriagesIt also appears that various kinds of intermarriage have been rising not just among Jews, but in the U.S. public as a whole. This is particularly apparent in federal data on racial and ethnic intermarriage (the U.S. government does not collect data on religious intermarriage). In 1980, roughly 7% of new marriages were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another. By 2019, that share had more than doubled to 19%.

Today, 11% of all married Jewish respondents say they have a different race or ethnicity than their spouse. But among those who got married between 2010 and 2020, fully one-in-five (21%) say their spouse has a different race or ethnicity, compared with one-in-ten or fewer among Jews who were married before 2010.23

For more information on racial and ethnic diversity among U.S. Jews, see Chapter 9.

3% of Jews who have gotten married since 2000 are in same-sex marriagesSame-sex marriage is less common. As of 2019, four years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not prohibit same-sex marriages, fewer than 1% of marriages among U.S. adults overall are same-sex marriages.24 Among U.S. Jews who are married, 2% say they are married to a spouse who is the same sex, while 3% of Jews who are married or living with a partner have a partner who is the same sex.

Most married Jews who do not identify with a particular branch of Judaism have a non-Jewish spouseRates of Jewish intermarriage (the percentage of married Jewish respondents in the survey who say their spouse is not Jewish either by religion or aside from religion) vary considerably across the major U.S. branches or streams of Judaism. Nearly all Orthodox respondents who are married have a Jewish spouse (98%), as do three-quarters of married Conservative Jews (75%). About six-in-ten Reform Jews who are married have a Jewish spouse (58%), while among married Jews who have no branch affiliation, just 32% have a Jewish spouse.

The survey also suggests that intermarriage is much more common among Jewish respondents who are themselves the children of intermarriage. Among married Jews who report having only one Jewish parent, 82% say their spouse is not Jewish, and just 18% say their spouse is Jewish. By contrast, among married Jews who report that both of their parents were Jewish, 34% are intermarried and 66% have a Jewish spouse.

Most Jews say rabbis should officiate at religious intermarriages and same-sex marriages

About two-thirds of Jews say rabbis should perform interfaith marriage ceremonies; Orthodox disagreeThe survey asked whether rabbis should perform interfaith marriage ceremonies, offering respondents three options: yes, they should; no, they should not; or, it depends. The “it depends” option did not specify any particular factor(s) but was included because some rabbis who officiate at interfaith weddings do so under certain conditions, such as that the couple promise to raise any future children they may have as Jewish, or that the ceremony does not take place in a church or another religion’s house of worship.

Overall, roughly two-thirds of U.S. Jews (64%) say rabbis should perform interfaith marriage ceremonies, while 9% say rabbis should not perform such ceremonies. Fully one-quarter say it depends on the situation.

While majorities of Reform Jews (77%) and Jews outside of any branch (70%) say rabbis should perform interfaith marriage ceremonies, somewhat fewer Conservative Jews (53%) take that position. And about three-quarters of Orthodox Jews (73%) say rabbis should not officiate at interfaith weddings, with an additional 18% of Orthodox respondents saying it depends on the situation. Just 8% of Orthodox Jews say flatly that rabbis should perform interfaith marriage ceremonies.

Most Jews say rabbis should perform same-sex marriage ceremonies; Orthodox disagreeIn answer to a similarly worded question about same-sex weddings, 71% of U.S. Jews say that rabbis should perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, while 15% say rabbis should not perform such ceremonies, and 13% say it depends.

Majorities of most Jewish subgroups – including Reform Jews (84%), Conservative Jews (63%) and Jews ages 65 and older (69%) – are in favor of rabbis officiating at same-sex weddings. But about eight-in-ten Orthodox Jews (82%) say rabbis should not perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. And, relatedly, Republicans are somewhat divided on this issue. One-third of Jewish Republicans – who are much more heavily Orthodox than Democrats – say rabbis should officiate at same-sex marriages, while 44% say they should not and one-in-five (21%) say it depends.

Most married Jewish parents say they are raising their children as Jewish by religion

Intermarried parents much less likely to be raising their children JewishAbout eight-in-ten Jews who are currently parents or guardians of at least one child residing in their household say they are raising their children as Jewish in some way. Six-in-ten are raising their children as Jewish by religion (60%), while 6% say they are raising their children as partly Jewish and partly in another religion, and 13% are raising at least one child Jewish but not by religion. One-in-five (19%) say they are not raising their children as Jewish at all.

Eight-in-ten Jews by religion who are parents of minor children in their household say they are raising their children Jewish by religion, 7% are raising their children partly Jewish by religion and partly another religion, and 5% are raising them Jewish but not by religion. The survey did not obtain enough interviews with Jews of no religion who are also parents or guardians of minor children to report on them as a separate group.

Two-thirds of married Jews who are parents or guardians of minor children in their household say they are raising those children as Jewish by religion (65%). This is particularly common among Jewish parents with a Jewish spouse: 93% say they are raising their children Jewish by religion. By comparison, 28% of Jews married to non-Jews are raising their children Jewish by religion. A similar share of intermarried Jews are raising at least one child Jewish but not by religion (29%), while 12% are raising children in multiple religions and 30% are not raising their children as Jewish at all.

One-third of Jews say it is very important to them that any potential grandchildren are JewishThe survey included a series of questions asking respondents to imagine their grandchildren (whether they have any at present, or not) and asking how important it would be to them for their grandchildren to be Jewish, to share their core political convictions, to carry on their family name and to marry someone who is Jewish.

Roughly one-third of U.S. Jews say it is very important that their grandchildren be Jewish (34%), while somewhat fewer say it would be very important for their grandchildren to marry someone who is Jewish (22%). About a quarter say it is very important that their grandchildren share their political convictions (26%) or carry on the family name (26%).

Jews by religion are far more likely than Jews of no religion to say it is very important to them for their grandchildren to be Jewish (45% vs. 4%).

Orthodox Jews are much more likely than Conservative, Reform and denominationally unaffiliated Jews to say it would be very important to them that their grandchildren be Jewish and marry someone Jewish.

Most who currently identify as Jewish were raised Jewish by religion

Most Jews of no religion were not raised Jewish by religionEight-in-ten Jewish adults say they were raised Jewish, including three-quarters who say they were raised Jewish by religion (73%) and 8% who were raised as Jewish of no religion. (The “raised Jewish of no religion” category consists of respondents who say they were raised as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” in terms of religion but were raised as Jewish in some other way, such as ethnically, culturally or by family background, and had a Jewish parent.)

Among adults who currently identify as Jewish, 5% say they were raised in another religion but were also raised Jewish aside from religion and had at least one Jewish parent; 10% say they were not raised Jewish in any way but had at least one Jewish parent; and 5% were not raised Jewish and did not have a Jewish parent.

More than eight-in-ten Jews by religion were raised Jewish by religion, twice the share of Jews of no religion who say the same (84% vs. 40%). Among Jews of no religion, an additional 27% say they were not raised Jewish in any way but had a Jewish parent, while one-in-five say they were raised as Jewish of no religion.

Orthodox Jews are the most likely to say they were raised Jewish by religion (95%), followed by Conservative (86%) and Reform (81%) Jews. Half of Jews who do not identify with any particular stream or institutional branch of Judaism say they were raised Jewish by religion (49%).25 In this group, three-in-ten had a Jewish parent but were raised in another religion (9%) or were not raised Jewish at all (21%), while 17% say they were raised Jewish but with no religion.

Just over half of adults who currently identify as Jewish were raised in the Reform (28%) or Conservative (26%) movements, and 10% were raised Orthodox. Roughly one-in-six Jews (16%) were raised Jewish but not within a particular Jewish denomination.

Among Jews by religion, about six-in-ten say they were raised Conservative (32%) or Reform (31%), while 14% were raised Orthodox. One in-five Jews by religion say they were not raised within any particular Jewish denomination (10%) or not raised Jewish at all (10%). By comparison, about a third of Jews of no religion say they were not raised within a Jewish denomination (34%), and an additional 27% say they were not raised Jewish at all. One-in-five Jews of no religion were raised Reform (22%), while 9% were raised Conservative and 1% say they were raised Orthodox.

Most Jewish adults who currently identify with a particular branch of Judaism were raised in that same branch. The vast majority of Jewish adults who currently identify as Orthodox were raised Orthodox (85%), seven-in-ten Conservative Jews were raised Conservative (69%) and 56% of Reform Jewish adults were raised in Reform Judaism. This indicates that the Reform movement draws many of its members from other backgrounds. For example, roughly a quarter of today’s Reform Jewish adults (23%) were raised in the Conservative movement.

These analyses can also be done in the opposite direction to show retention rates – e.g., among those who were raised Jewish (or Orthodox in particular), what percentage are still Jewish (or Orthodox) today? See the Overview for results.

 

Most U.S. Jews say they have two Jewish parents In what religion were you raised?

An overwhelming majority of Jews say they have (or had) at least one Jewish parent, including 92% of Jews by religion. (By definition, all Jews of no religion either have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish – for example, by a stepparent or a grandparent.)

Nearly all Orthodox Jews (96%) say that both of their parents are Jewish, and about eight-in-ten Conservative Jews (83%) say the same. While still a majority, somewhat fewer Reform Jews (72%) say they have two Jewish parents.

Roughly half of Jews who do not identify with any particular branch of U.S. Judaism say both of their parents are Jewish (52%), while about one-in-five each say only their mother (22%) or only their father (21%) is Jewish.

Jews ages 65 and older are much more likely than those under 30 to say both of their parents are or were Jewish (89% vs. 49%). Indeed, 46% of the youngest Jewish adults have one Jewish parent, as do 37% of Jews in their 30s and 40s.

Half of those raised Jewish, or who had a Jewish parent, have had a bar/bat mitzvah

Most who were raised Jewish have participated in some type of Jewish educational programmingOne-in-four Jewish respondents who were raised Jewish or had a Jewish parent say they attended a full-time Jewish school, such as a yeshiva or Jewish day school, when they were growing up. Six-in-ten say they participated in some other kind of formal Jewish education program, such as Hebrew school or Sunday school, including nearly a quarter who did so for seven years or more. And four-in-ten say they attended a summer camp with Jewish content.

Meanwhile, half of U.S. Jews who were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent (51%) – including a majority of Jews by religion (63%) – say they had a bar or bat mitzvah when they were young, similar to the share who said the same in the 2013 survey.26 Nearly a quarter (23%) of Jews of no religion also have had a bar or bat mitzvah.

Large majority of Orthodox Jews who were raised Jewish went to Jewish day schoolOrthodox Jews who were raised Jewish by religion or had a Jewish parent are far more likely than non-Orthodox Jews to say they attended a full-time Jewish school or attended a summer camp with Jewish content for at least one year. But Conservative and Reform Jews who were raised Jewish or had a Jewish parent are much more likely than Orthodox Jews to say they attended some other kind of formal Jewish education program.

Having had a bar or bat mitzvah is far more common among Orthodox and Conservative Jews who were raised Jewish or had a Jewish parent than it is for Reform Jews or Jews who do not identify with a particular branch of Judaism. And overall, Jewish men are twice as likely as Jewish women to say they had a bar or bat mitzvah when they were growing up (68% vs. 34%).

Among Jews who were raised Jewish by religion or had a Jewish parent, younger adults are more likely than those in older cohorts to say they attended a full-time Jewish school or a Jewish camp growing up. But young Jewish adults are less likely than their elders to say they participated in some other kind of formal Jewish education program, such as a Sunday Hebrew school.

  1. Bruce A. Phillips of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles has compared the theoretical odds of Jewish intermarriage with actual rates of Jewish intermarriage and concluded that “American Jewish intermarriage is actually lower than it ought to be given the small size of the Jewish population and the privileged position Jews hold in American society.” Phillips, Bruce A. 2013. “New demographic perspectives on studying intermarriage in the United States.” Contemporary Jewry: 114.
  2. The analysis of census data for the U.S. general public and the analysis of the Jewish survey data are done slightly differently. For the census, racial and ethnic intermarriages are defined as marriages between Hispanic and non-Hispanic persons, or marriages between White, Black, Asian, American Indian or multiracial persons, or persons who report that they are some other race. The analysis of the Jewish data uses fewer categories: White (non-Hispanic), Black (non-Hispanic), Hispanic (which can be of any race), or other race (including Asian and American Indian or multiracial). Any marriage across two of these groups is categorized as a racial and ethnic intermarriage. Jewish identity is treated as separate from race or ethnicity in this analysis.
  3. 2019 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) Public-Use Microdata Sample (PUMS).
  4. The terms branch, stream, movement and Jewish denomination are used interchangeably in this report. They include Orthodox (and subgroups within Orthodox Judaism), Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and others (including Humanistic Judaism, Jewish Renewal, etc.). The survey also included a separate question about participation in services or activities of Chabad (see Chapter 3).
  5. The 2013 report included respondents who were not raised Jewish in the analysis, but this analytical difference has minimal effect on the overall percentages.