Generations and Regeneration: Engagement and Fidelity in 21st Century American Jewish Life

Sponsor(s): B3/The Jewish Boomer Platform, Research Center for Leadership in Action (RCLA), NYU Wagner

Principal Investigator(s): David Elcott, Stuart Himmelfarb

Study Dates: Spring, 2013 Internet Survey

Key Findings:

Generation and Regeneration...summarizes data from a Spring, 2013 Internet study of 12,700 Jews who are connected in some way to Jewish organizations "...by virtue of their membership, philanthropic giving,  or simply being on Jewish organization email lists."  The Internet panel was deliberately designed to be representative of the more connected Jews in the United States, As the authors note, "It is critical to remember, when approaching these results, that this sample was designed to skew toward those more engaged in Jewish communal life."

Data from the Internet survey are analyzed from a generational perspective, with tabular analyses in the body of the report and in the Appendix presenting data organized by the responses of: (1) WWII War generation respondents, (2) the Jewish Boomer generation, (3) Generation X respondents and (4) Millenials.  Empirically, the study organizes a vast amount of the Jewish Internet panel's responses by these generational cohorts.

Conceptually, the monograph explores the implications of study results for the vitality of the Jewish community as one of a number of minority communities in American life.

Nine key findings and recommendations are highlighted in the study's Executive Summary:

Personal change and communal engagement potential are not limited to the young.

A significant minority of connected Jews are leaning away from long-term commitments and toward episodic participation.

Damning with faint praise: Although highly connected to Jewish communal institutions, this population is only tepidly satisfied with them.

Belonging to the Jewish people is very important to strong majorities of all four age cohorts, but its importance does decline among younger respondents.

American Jews are without a compelling narrative to bind them.

Engaged Jews are strongly identified both with universal values (making the world better for everyone) and with being Jewish (and addressing Jewish needs), but their levels of motivation and enthusiasm for universal values are significantly stronger and more consistent than their Jewish ones. This gap is especially apparent in responses to questions about motivations for volunteering.

Online media are important for reaching all age groups.

New language and new approaches are needed to attract (and describe) people’s attention, interest, and participation.

Jewish institutions need to replace hierarchical and authoritarian structures with more fluid, flat, and open democratic systems of engaging people in non-authoritarian and even non-authoritative processes.

Sample:

Internet panel was constructed by requesting email addresses from over 50 major U.S. Jewish organizations (list is on page 74 of the report)

Report notes that the panel included approximately 20,000 email addresses where they were able to contact potential respondent.  Approximately 15,700 completed responses received.

Sample Size: Approximately 12,700 Internet respondents

Sample Notes:

Sample is a deliberate over-representation of those connected to Jewish life via major Jewish organizations and was not designed to be a representative sample of adult American Jews, as was the Pew Research Center 2013 Portrait of Jewish Americans (dated collected in same year, 2013). 

Readers should note that among the implications of this sample selection decision, the Internet Panel used for the study over-represents Conservative Jews and under-represents Reform Jews (as compared to national data on Jews).

For example, while the Pew study found that only 18% of all American Jews identified as Conservative Jews while 35% identified as Reform Jews, the panel's denominational identification included 28% of respondents who identified as Reform Jews and 26% who identified as Conservative Jews (N= 3,335 Reform Jews approximately and 3,296 Conservative Jews, essentially equal numbers).

Similarly, 17% of Millenial Jews identify as Conservative Jews in the 12,700 respondent Internet panel, as do 17% of Generation X, 15% of Boomers and 15% of WWII generation respondents.  Pew's data indicated, in contrast, that among respondents 18-29 (approximately the Millenial age span), 11% were Conservative Jews, compared to 16% of those 30-49, 20% of those 50-64 and 24% of those 65 and over.

Thus, while the general population data indicates a decline in Jews self-identifying as Conservative Jews over time, the Internet panel indicates that those linked most strongly to Jewish organizational life do not reflect the more general Conservative decline.  While the data are not surprising given the deliberate Jewish-connected source of Internet panelists, the study's internal data indicate that those connected to Jewish organizational life may become increasingly atypical of American Jews in the future -  which may be a significant finding by itself.

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Minimal information is presented in the report on the genesis of the Internet panel and the Internet survey process developed with the assistance of the fifty major Jewish organizations.  For example, while the report notes that, "Each organization was asked to forward a link to our survey to its email list," the report does not indicate what text accompanied the email sent to potential respondents, and whether the text varied by organization or was a universal text embedded in all emails.  Nor is there an indication of whether multiple waves of email requests were sent by all organizations, or if one email was sent by some organizations and multiple requests were sent by other organizations.

Study Notes:

Questionnaire begins on page 75 of the report.

Frequencies and percentages for questions begin on page 90.

These survey results in these frequency/percentage tables present a wealth of survey response data organized in tables for each survey question where responses of the four generations of adult American Jews are compared in detail 

The generational perspective provides a central analytic theme throughout the report.  Generations were defined as:

WWII Jews/War Genderation, born before 1946,

Jewish Boomers born 1946-1964,

GenX Jews born 1965-1980, and

Adult Millenial Jews, born 1981-1995 (minimum age 2013 =18)

 

Language: English