Pew Stands By Sweeping Findings on #JewishAmerica in Face of Criticism

Pushes Back Against Forward Columnist J.J. Goldberg


By Alan Cooperman and Greg Smith

Published October 15, 2013.
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In addition, there is another serious error in Goldberg’s column that we would like to correct. He suggests that the main demographic findings of the Pew Research survey, including trends in intermarriage rates, are based on comparisons with the 2000-2001 NJPS. This is not the case. On the contrary, the Pew Research Center’s report on the new survey clearly and repeatedly cautions that such comparisons are complicated by differences in methodology, question wording and categorizations, as well as by the well-known flaws in the 2000-2001 NJPS. In consultation with experts on the 2000-2001 NJPS, we reanalyzed the 2000-2001 data to create comparable categories, and we make comparisons only sparingly, always with appropriately cautious language.

The main demographic findings of the Pew Research survey are, in fact, based on data from the new survey itself. We can see from the survey, for example, that 17% of respondents who got married before 1970 say their spouse is not Jewish, while among those who got married in the 1980s, about 40% have a non-Jewish spouse, and among those who have gotten married since 1995, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse.

We can also see evidence of the increase of Jews of no religion in our survey itself. Among Jews in the aging “greatest generation” of Americans (born 1914-1927), 93% identify their religion as Jewish and just 7% say they have no particular religion, yet consider themselves Jewish aside from religion. That share rises in subsequent generations, and among Jews in the youngest cohort of current adults, the Millennial generation, fully 32% say they have no religion.

There are a number of additional problems with Goldberg’s analysis. For example, he appears to compare findings from previous studies as they pertain to the total Jewish population (adults and children) with findings from the new survey that pertain only to adults.

On some other points, such as whether intermarriage rates finally have leveled off over the last 15 years, Goldberg is entitled to his interpretation. But we would strongly caution readers against taking population totals or other figures from either the NJPS 1990 or the NJPS 2000-2001 and stacking them against findings from the new survey without the kind of careful re-analysis contained in our report. The first chapter of the report goes into some detail on how the population estimates differ depending on the definitions used, and it puts the new findings into historical context as well.

We hope our response helps to clear up any confusion that may have resulted from Goldberg’s op-ed. We at the Pew Research Center take great care in designing and implementing our surveys, and we strive to present our findings accurately, impartially and transparently. It is our wish that our survey of American Jews will continue to serve as a useful source of information for those interested in the characteristics, attitudes, and experiences of the American Jewish population.

Alan Cooperman is deputy director, Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center. Greg Smith is director of U.S. Religion Surveys, Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center


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