Nearly two decades ago Barry Kosmin looked at the figures of a declining Jewish population in the United States and predicted that the numbers would continue to decline.
His latest demographic study, released this week, proved him right.
The percentage of Americans who identify their religion as Jewish fell to 1.2 percent, compared to nearly two percent in a comparable 1990 study, according to the American Religious Identification Study conducted by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
“It’s not the total ethnic Jewish population,” which includes secular Jews without a religious affiliation, cautions Kosmin, director of the institute.
The survey indicates that a growing percentage of Americans – particularly in much of the majority-Christian population– of all religious backgrounds do not affiliate with any faith tradition.
“There’s nothing surprising about this,” says Kosmin. A zero-growth-rate in the American Jewish population, an increasing intermarriage rate, a lack of immigration since the influx from the former Soviet Union stopped several years ago, and a drift from religious affiliation made a decrease in the absolute and relative size of American Jewry a near inevitability, Kosmin says.
The survey’s results reflect many recent studies of the American Jewish population, which find a growing share of the Jewish community to identify itself as “cultural” Jews or “just Jewish,” while not affiliating with a synagogue or a particular denomination of Judaism.
For Jews, as for many Americans, “religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many,” Kosmin says.
According to the survey, the number of people identifying as religiously Jewish – estimated at three percent of the American population early in the 20th century, has steadily slipped from the institute’s first-such study in 1990. The Jewish population in the United States 19 years ago was determined to be 3,137,000, 1.8 percent of the overall population. The figures in the institute’s 2001 survey were 2,837,000 and 1.4 percent.