Jewish Life
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Jewish Life > NJPS: Jewish Connections: Over-Time Continuity and Change
NJPS: Over-Time Continuity and Change

NJPS Home ---> NJPS Report ---> Jewish Connections --->

Over-Time Continuity and Change -Download NJPS Report PDF

-Download PowerPoint Summary

Are American Jews changing over time, either becoming more "assimilated" or participating in a period of "Jewish renaissance and renewal?"  Alternatively, are they holding steady in their Jewish involvement?

Examining how Jewish connections differ across the age spectrum provides initial clues to the overall directions of American Jewry. Age-related variations in Jewish involvement reflect two factors. First, they may indicate differences in birth groups -- the ways in which younger people differ from their elders -- and therefore reflect changes over time.

Second, they may point to changes in the life cycle, for example, marital and family status, employment, income and migration. To the extent that life cycle factors can be logically dismissed, then age differences in Jewish connections can be more safely attributed to over-time trends and changes in American Jewry.

Adults age 35-64 are a particularly important group in which to discern possible over-time (or birth group) changes in Jewish connections. With respect to life-cycle factors, this 30-year age group tends to be more stable than those who are younger and older than they are. Before age 35, many young adults have yet to finish their education, marry or have children. After age 65, many people leave the work force, experience lower incomes, and endure the loss of their spouse.

How, then, do Jews in the 35-44 year age group differ from the next two age groups, 45-54 and 55-64? In some ways, younger adult Jews hardly differ from their elders. In other forms of Jewish involvement, younger Jews are alternately more and less engaged (see Table 9).

Many indicators of Jewish engagement remain steady across the age groups, including synagogue affiliation* and attendance,* JCC membership,* volunteerism under Jewish auspices,* and ritual observances such as fasting on Yom Kippur,* holding or attending a Passover seder and lighting Chanukah candles. In addition, younger adults are as likely as older adults to be involved in Jewish cultural activities such as enrolling in adult education programs* and utilizing print and audio media with Jewish content.*

Beyond this broad pattern of stability, Jewish engagement seems to strengthen in other areas. Younger Jews appear to be increasing their practice of some rituals, including keeping kosher in their homes* and lighting Shabbat candles.* The use of the Internet for Jewish purposes* is another example, reflecting both a greater technical proficiency among younger adults and their readiness to access new forms of Jewish engagement that technological advances bring.

However, not all signs point to stability or intensification over time. Less frequent among younger than older Jews are charitable giving to Jewish causes (both federation and otherwise), close friendships with other Jews and, marginally, Jewish organizational memberships* beyond synagogues and JCCs. Younger adults also report less frequent endorsement of two critical attitudes related to Jewish ethnicity, the importance of being Jewish* and feeling emotionally attached to Israel.

In sum, NJPS results are consistent with recent research on changing patterns of Jewish engagement in the United States over the last few decades. They indicate strength and stability in many areas including religious life, adult education, congregational and JCC affiliations, and Jewish cultural participation. Simultaneously, they point to weakening ties among Jews on several levels, including close friendships, contributions to Jewish philanthropy, some organizational connections, and attachment to the Jewish collective as represented by Israel and other symbols.

* Topics with asterisks refer to respondents who answered the survey's long form, representing a population of 4.3 million Jewish adults and children.

Next page: Communal Affiliation