The Big Ten: The Young & Jewish Edition

Kate Shellnutt by Kate Shellnutt

Challah back!  This week’s topics are service-attendance, intermarriage and religious identity among Jews in their 20s.

In The Big Ten, a weekly, list-style look at faith, I present religion news and stats in tens (à la Ten Commandments).  Check in each week to see a quick inventory of the changes in belief and unbelief, practice and principle among young Americans.


The first post of The Big Ten is in honor of my roommate, a Reform Jew originally from Los Angeles who’s starting her search for a Chicago synagogue (read more about our adventures shul to shul at my blog, The Little Things).

I’m taking a look at the next generation of American Jews, a group that increasingly identifies as culturally or ethnically Jewish and doesn’t always depend on a traditional congregation for community.  An estimated 20,000 Jews attend laity-led “unconventional” services, held in apartments or on college campuses, according to a Washington Post article published earlier this year.

The National Jewish Population Survey was taken in 2001, but hints at today’s trends in Jewish identity among 20-somethings.

1. The Jewish population overall skews older – the median Jewish age is 42, compared with 35 for Americans overall.

2.  One in six young Jewish adults living in America was born overseas.  About half of these foreign-born Jews came from countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union and 17 percent came from Israel.

3. Jews in their 30s have more Jewish friends than younger ones do.   Between 16 percent and 17 percent of Jews in their 20s say “most” of their friends are Jewish, compared with 28 percent of Jews over 30.

4. In America, three-quarters of young Jewish adults say they date both Jews and non-Jews.

5. Nearly half of Jewish newlyweds intermarry.  Of all American Jews currently married, one-third are married to non-Jews.

6. Younger Jewish couples are most likely to marry outside of the Jewish tradition, if they have high levels of Jewish education, they tend to still marry other Jews.

7. Forty-seven percent of Jews between the age of 20 and 30 identify strongly with the Jewish people.

8. Reform is the most popular denomination among young Jews, making up 29 percent of the 18-to-24 age group and 38 percent of the 25-to-30 age group.

9. Nearly half of Jewish young adults attend services at least once a month.

10. More than 80 percent of the 5.2 million Jews in the United States attend Passover seders and light Hanukkah candles.  That figure is around 70 percent for Jews under 30.

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