How NOT to Do Jewish Population Studies: or, Jewish Population Studies for Dummies

Sponsor(s): North American Jewish Data Bank

Principal Investigator(s): Ron Miller

Study Dates: December 2009

Key Findings:

Presentation by Dr. Ron Miller, Vice-President, Research, Ukeles Associates, Inc. (UAI) at the December 2009 meetings of the Association for Jewish Studies in Los Angeles, CA -  at a session sponsored by the Berman Institute - North American Jewish Data Bank at the University of Connecticut, of which Dr. Miller was then Associate Director.  

“How Not to Do Jewish Population Studies…” focuses upon three major issues  — three totally obvious, common-sense issues —  that many Jewish population studies have failed to address sufficiently, resulting in a biased set of survey findings, and a somewhat inaccurate portrait of the American Jewish community.  

The three “obvious” issues are: (1) If you want an accurate assessment of the percentage of children being raised Jewish in intermarried Jewish households, include interviews with non-Jewish spouses (as well as Jewish spouses) in order to avoid overestimating the percentage of children being raised Jewishly; (2) If you want to do a study of the total Jewish population in a community, include accurate estimates of all potential members of the community and include them in the study data file — especially those who are “cell-phone-only.” (3) Do not screen for or interview Jewish households on Shabbat and Jewish holidays when observant Orthodox Jews will not answer calls; and (3a) Do not use and combine multiple surveys that screen or interview on Shabbat, etc. into a combined  study, and then conclude on the basis of these combined data which are systematically biased against including observant Orthodox Jews that the National Jewish Population Survey, 2000-01, which had other clear methodological problems but which did not include screening/interviewing on Shabbat, etc., was wrong in terms of the relative size of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews in America.

First, this paper summarizes data from multiple local Jewish population studies which allow for a non-Jewish spouse to complete the interview to show that among the intermarried households interviewed, non-Jewish spouses tended to be somewhat more likely to report that their children were not being raised as Jews than did Jewish spouses — but tend to report Jewish household affiliation rates, etc. that are similar to their Jewish spouses.  

Second, this paper shows how Internet surveys among younger Jews can be used in local Jewish community studies to adjust the data file for cell-phone only households that were not included in landline-based interviews, and then suggests increasing the proportion of cell-phone calls included in future local Jewish population surveys to further help correct the landline estimates.

Finally, this paper briefly reaffirms the need to NOT screen for/interview Jews on Shabbat and Jewish holidays — and the need to interview non-Jewish spouses — and discusses the relative merits of multiple local community studies, NJPS 1990, NJPS 2001, AJIS 2001 and AJIS 2008, and the meta-study “solution” to Jewish population surveys from these three common-sense perspectives. 

The paper concludes with a common-sense solution to Jewish population surveys — easier on a national level than on a local level -  (cell phones!) — essentially providing guidelines for the (hopefully) forthcoming National Jewish Population Survey.

Language: English


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