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Where Did the Jewish Kids Go?

flickr / Luna Park NYC

It’s likely the number of Jewish children in America will dwindle in the coming years, according to a new report from The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). The Institute concludes that the decline in the number of Jewish children in the U.S. can be attributed to two distinct factors: Non-Orthodox Jewish people are marrying later in life, and they’re marrying more non-Jews.

The JPPI report looked at demographic trends, with a focus on data from the Pew Research Center concerning non-Orthodox Jewish families (traditional Orthodox Jews, including Hasidic Jews, were excluded because they invariably marry young, within the faith, and raise Jewish children). The JPPI notes some startling trends in the data. For instance, the number of married, non-Orthodox Jews aged 30 to 39 years old has declined by more than 30 percent since 1965. Additionally, a full 53 percent of non-Orthodox Jewish individuals remain unmarried by age 34, suggesting precious few fertile years to have large families.

Contributing to the decline, those relatively few children born to Jewish parents are increasingly unlikely to be raised Jewish. JPPI found that 50 percent of non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 25 and 54 are unmarried, and that only 21 percent are married to other Jews. That means 29 percent are marrying non-Jews, and often raising their kids accordingly.

And even when non-Orthodox Jews marry and have children at a younger age, they are often not raising their kids with religion. The report finds that 21 percent of Jewish parents aged 25 to 39 chose to raise their kids without religious affiliation. Only 13 percent told Pew that they intended to raise their children in the Jewish faith. “The patterns of marriage and childbearing reported…combine to produce rather small numbers of Jews whose family circumstances are conducive to their own Jewish engagement and to the likelihood of their contributing to Jewish demographic continuity,” the JPPI study authors write.

But the trends reported in the Jewish community are not necessarily unique—they parallel similar trends observed across religions in America. According to Pew, 20 percent of Americans now report having no religion. And Pew data suggests Jewish millennials are no more likely to disaffiliate from their religion than anyone else. It’s possible that not only will there be fewer Jewish kids in the coming years, but fewer religious kids in general. Unless children become more actively involved in religion.

Getting kids excited about religion isn’t easy, but JPPI has some advice that even Southern Baptists can get behind—better religious education. “Jewish education that extends into the teen years not only makes adult Jews more likely to forge Jewish connections,” the authors conclude. “It makes them more likely to marry another Jew, and to raise Jewish-by-religion children.”