A study that posits itself as the new authority on Jewish demographic data says that the American Jewish population is between 6 million and 6.4 million, and potentially as high as 7.5 million.
The new figures are the latest and most powerful refutation of the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, which found a Jewish population of 5.2 million, sparking furious discussion about the decline of American Jewry.
“A community experiencing growth, rather than decline, presents the challenge of serving an additional 1.3 million individuals,” the authors of the new study wrote. “To the extent that the population has been overestimated, we may have also overestimated the success of programs and the degree to which they adequately serve the population.”
The new study was released by Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute, which was created, in part, to help correct flaws in past Jewish demographic surveys. Where the National Jewish Population Survey relied on a single phone study, the Brandeis study is built on an analysis of some three-dozen existing surveys from the government and from private agencies, which the researchers synthesized, or “meta-analyzed.”
The authors, Brandeis researchers Len Saxe, Elizabeth Tighe, Benjamin Phillips and Charles Kadushin, argued in their report that the single-survey methods that “have ‘worked’ in past decades, are no longer a feasible means to assess a ‘rare’ population.”
The 6 million to 6.4 million figure in the new Brandeis study is comparable with the 4.3 million figure in the National Jewish Population Survey, which reflected the number of people who are Jewish by religion or who consider themselves Jewish. The 5.2 million figure that came out of the latter survey included people who came from Jewish backgrounds. Counting these people, the Brandeis study estimates that there are between 7 million and 7.5 million Jews.
Last December, a third study, which compiled local Jewish population surveys, indicated that the population was 6.4 million.
In addition to offering higher population numbers, the Brandeis study provides a picture of the composition of the Jewish population that contrasts with previous assessments. The Brandeis authors asserted that, largely due to the easier time the researchers had reaching Orthodox homes, the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey significantly undercounted the non-Orthodox and the young.
The additional 1 million people who turned up as a result of the new methodology “are disproportionately non-Orthodox and, on average, younger than the NJPS population.”