The American Jewish Population

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Vanishing American Jew


   In 1958, i.e., forty-four years ago, Look Magazine published an article called “The Vanishing American Jew”. This article was met with rejection and even fury by many Jews who did not want to know anything about the predictions made by those who wrote it. Yet, forty- four years later we are faced with these statistics.


  1. In 1990 there were 5,515,000 Jews in the United States. We were then almost 2% of the population of this country, which stood at 254,105,000.

  2. In 2001 there were 5,200,000 Jews in the United States. Now the population of this country has risen to 283 million so that we are now almost, but not quite, 1.9% of the American population (In 1937 we were 3%).

  3. Approximately 20% of Americans who consider themselves Jewish practice no religion.

  4. There are about 300,000 Jews by Choice included in those who practice Judaism. These converts are usually, but not always, married to a Jew by birth.

  5. One half of all Jewish women aged 30-34 have no children. This compares to 27% of all American women who have no children. The birth rate for all American women of child bearing age is between 1.9 and 2.0. For Jewish women it is 1.4.

  6. Jewish women defer child bearing to pursue “higher education” and a career. That is also true of many non-Jewish women.

  7. At least 52% of Jews who married since 1990 have married non-Jews. A study to be released next month may find this to be higher.

  8. One half of all American Jews have a bachelor’s degree as compared to 28 percent of the entire American population. Twenty four percent of Jews have a graduate degree.

  9. The median income of American Jews is $50,000 a year. That means that one half of all Jews earn more and one half less than that. The median income for all Americans is $42,000.

  10. One fifth of all Jews live in poverty, as their median income is only $25,000. These Jews are generally invisible as they cannot afford to participate in Jewish communal life.

  11. In 1990, 15% of the Jewish population of the United States was 65 years old or older. Now, 19% are among the old.

  12. Jews are far more visible in this country than our numbers would lead one to expect. We are overrepresented in the Senate, in the House and in all professions. For that reason most Americans believe that we are about 20 million. The fact is, that we would be 20 million today if in all generations since 1881 Jews had married only Jews.


It is evident that if the present trends continue, we will indeed vanish from America. This could well occur by the middle of this century.

So the question arises at once: “Do we have anything going for us?” I think we do.

First and foremost, we have succeeded in giving more of our children a full Jewish day school experience than ever before. This means that despite our shrinking numbers, there are more Jews in this country today who know Hebrew, can read the Torah, have traveled to Israel and have studied Jewish history than ever before.

Second, we have a great deal more political clout than our numbers would allow because of our concentration in a few populous states where our numbers can still make a difference. Forty three percent of all American Jews still live in the Northeast, i.e., mainly New York; 22% live in the West, 22% live in the South and 13% live in the Midwest. Because of our electoral college system we make a political difference despite our small numbers. We also finance numerous candidates in states which have few Jews. This strategy yields a number of pro-Israel office holders who have hardly any Jewish constituency. Now don’t let anybody tell you that our effort to “lobby” politicians is somehow not legitimate. The truth is that the whole American system of government is based on “lobbying”.

Third, despite our small numbers, we have built tremendous Jewish institutions in this country which range from Jewish sponsored universities to Jewish hospitals, Jewish sponsored libraries and Jewish welfare systems.

We  have several Jewish publishing houses and innumerable Jewish publications. Above all, we have millions of Jews who have established themselves firmly in the American system, whether in the economy, in education or in the professions so we will always survive, however few we may be.

We are a  people of great courage. We have been through more “tsores” than any people in history. Yet, we always survived. So it will be again this time as we face the threat of self destruction even as we faced the threats of the haters in other places and other years.

We will survive no matter how ugly things look for us sometimes. This belief sustains us and strengthens us and gives us hope Bimhayro ve yomayno

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).

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