Over the past half century, intermarriage has become increasingly common in the United States among all religions – but among Jews at a higher rate than any other.
Why that is the case is one of the questions Naomi Schaefer Riley probes in her new book, “‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America,” which was published last month by Oxford University Press.
One of the main reasons, Riley finds, is that the older people get, the more likely they are to intermarry — and Jews tend to get married older than Americans generally, according to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey. By the same token, Mormons, who encourage early nuptials, are the least likely faith to out-marry.
The findings in Riley’s book, for which she commissioned a national study, raise the question of whether Jewish institutions interested in reducing interfaith marriages should be encouraging Jews to marry early. Currently they don’t, according to Riley, and the American Jewish intermarriage rate is about 50 percent.
Another factor behind the comparatively high Jewish intermarriage rate is, simply, that Americans like Jews. Riley cites the work of sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, who measured the popularity of various religious groups with extensive surveys for their 2010 book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.”
“America, for the most part, loves its Jews,” agreed Paul Golin, the associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute. “It doesn’t mean that anti-Semitism is over, but there’s much more philo-Semitism than anti-Semitism in America.”
Riley says intermarriage is both a cause and effect of this phenomenon. “The more you have exposure to people of other faiths, the more likely you are to like them and then marry them yourself,” she said.
Riley, who identifies as a Conservative Jew, is herself intermarried.