American Religious Identification Survey 2008 (ARIS) and the American Jewish Identity Survey 2008 (AJIS)

Sponsor(s): Lilly Endowment, Inc., Posen Foundation

Principal Investigator(s): Barry A. Kosmin, Ariela Keysar

Population Estimates:

Barry A. Kosmin has summarized Jewish population estimates from ARIS 2008 (the American Religious Identification Survey) and the related American Jewish Identity Survey (AJIS 2008) in "The Changing Population Profile of American Jews 1990-2008."

The 2008 Jewish population estimates are derived from a slightly different series of questions than were asked in the earlier American Jewish Identity Survey (AJIS 2001) and the National Jewish Population Survey of 1990 (NJPS 1990) which was the initial model for the "time series." 

Religious identification data were collected on all household members (including children) in the 1990 and the the 2001 studies but not in 2008 - hence the 2008 estimates are presented as ranges compared to the more precise estimates from the earlier studies. 

"A full household roster and specific modules of "Jewish' questions were collected in 1990 and 2001.  In 2008 a question of ethnic origin and ancestry, including a Jewish category, was asked of respondents with no religion.  Thus in 1990 and 2001 the larger [identified and interviewed] Jewish sample is the result of a more complex screening process identifying all households containing a Jewish resident whereas AJIS 2008 is limited to self-identifying Jewish survey respondents only..."

  • The total number of "core" Jewish adults in 2008 is estimated to be between 2,700,000 and 2,900,000 million compared to an estimated 2,930,000 in 2001 and 3,539,000 in 1990.
  • The total number of "core" Jewish persons  - including respondents, other adults and children - estimated from the AJIS time series is between 5,200,000 and 5,400,000 compared to 5,340,000 in 2001 and 5,515,000 in 1990.
  • The "No Religion" portion of the Jewish population ["JNR" in 1990 NJPS and 2001 AJIS terminology] increased from about 20% in 1990 to approximately 37% in 2008. 
  • The "extended" population with Jewish ancestry in the USA is continually expanding as a result of intermarriage within the Jewish community, suggesting an "estimated Jewish population" based on Israel's "Law of Return" of approximately 10 million, compared to 8 million in 1990.
Key Findings:

The American Religious Identification Survey 2008 (ARIS 2008) Summary Report was written by Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar.  It notes that the "..American population self-identifies as Christian but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian."

  • 86% of American adults living in the Continental United States (48 states and D.C.) identified as Christians in 1990 compared to 76% in 2008.70% of Americans believe in a personal God, while 12% are atheists or agnostics and another 12% are "...deistic (a higher power but no personal God).
  • 70% of Americans believe in a personal God, while 12% are atheists or agnostics and another 12% are "...deistic (a higher power but no personal God).
  • The study stressed the emergence of the "Nones," Americans with no stated religious preference, or atheists or agnostics), who constituted 15.0% of the US adult population in 2008 compared to 14.1% in 2001 and 8.2% in 1990. [Please see the special report on American "Nones" in the Links section on the left.]
  • In general, the authors noted that from 1990-2008, changes in religious self-identification "..in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States."

Sample Size: 54,461 respondents interviewed in English or Spanish for the ARIS study - of these, 967 were Jewish.

Study Notes:

The Summary Report of the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 notes that "ARIS 2008 the is the third in a landmark time series of large, nationally representative surveys that track changes in the religious loyalties of the U.S. adult population within the 48 contiguous states from 1990 to 2008. The 2001 and 2008 surveys are replicas of the 1990 survey, and are led by the same academic research team using an identical methodology of random-digit-dialed telephone interviews (RDD) and the same unprompted, open-ended key question “What is your religion, if any?” Interviewers did not prompt or offer a suggested list of potential answers. Moreover, the self-description of respondents was not based on whether established religious bodies or institutions considered them to be members. To the contrary, the surveys sought to determine whether the respondents regarded themselves as adherents of a religious community."

Please see the link to the ARIS 2008 website at Trinity College on the left for updated information on the study and for additional articles on religion in the US from the ARIS survey.

Language: English