Fast Growing Ultra-Orthodox Populations are Transforming the U.S. Jewish Community

The image of the American Jew long been that of a secular, northeast, cosmopolitan liberal, who despite rarely attending synagogue, maintains a cultural connection to Judaism by partaking in Jewish traditions such as Shabbat dinners and Passover Seders. This image is rapidly changing.

In both the U.S. and in Israel, birthrates among ultra-Orthodox Jews have well exceeded those of their secular counterparts; indeed, the average ultra-Orthodox Jewish family has 5.8 children, versus 1.3 for non-Orthodox families. Unlike secular Jews and non-Orthodox religious Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews frequently attend religious services, hold politically conservative views, and live in insular communities — resulting in high retention rates. Hence, the seemingly exponential growth in the ultra-Orthodox community is resulting in a ‘bottom up’ transformation of the U.S. Jewish community.

Unlike Christianity, the absolute number of Jews living in the U.S. is expected to rise — driven largely by ultra-Orthodox births.

U.S. Christianity is experiencing significant declines in membership across denominations — the majority of which is attributable to young people leaving the church. This trend is more pronounced among Protestants — specifically, Mainline Protestants — and is present to a lesser degree among Catholics, whose numbers have been bolstered by Latin American immigration.

Conversely, the age distribution of U.S. Jews presents presents a very different story. Note the shapes each distribution below. Among Protestant CES respondents, there is a gradual decrease between 65 years of age until 18 years of age; among Catholics, the share of respondents is decreases after 60, and then remains steady after 35. However, while the number of Jewish respondents decreases from 65 years of age to 45, the population then spikes among the younger generation, reflecting rising ultra-Orthodox birthrates.

When digging further into CES data, the changing composition of US Jews becomes apparent. When splitting respondents into age cohorts, the youngest Jews are more likely to indicate that religion is important in their lives and frequently attend religious services.

As is the case among other faiths, the more frequently one attends religious services, the more likely they are to adopt socially conservative views, which inevitably manifests itself in political behavior. In recent decades, the Republican Party has been the ideological home of social conservatives, as is shown in the following plot.

As expected, as younger Jews become more religious, they appear to be more likely than their elders to adopt socially conservative views, and by extension, to vote for the Republican party.

What do these figures tell us? The image of the American Jew is rapidly changing. Unlike the rest of America, Jews are becoming more religious — the social and political consequences of which are already apparent.

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