Survey: For College Students, Judaism is Cultural


Highlights from the new Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students have just been released, and the results reveal a stark difference between the current generation of young Jews and the previous generation.

For young Jews today, Judaism seems to be more of a cultural experience, not a religious one. This was further expressed in the survey results when it came to identifying certain values as uniquely Jewish: a high portion of respondents avoided characterizing ideals such as “leading an ethical and moral life” as religion-specific.

“I don’t think it’s a conscious divorcing,” said Derek Kwait, editor of New Voices, an online magazine for Jewish college students.

Started by professors Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar of Trinity College in Connecticut, the survey attempts to capture the Jewish college student demographic that is often under-represented in the popular Pew Survey.

This year’s poll surveyed 1,157 self-identified Jewish college students from around the country on their religious habits currently and growing up, family background, and their conception of a Jewish identity.

Kwait speculated beyond the survey’s findings on participants’ backgrounds and its affects on the results.

“I would wager those students who had more Jewish education growing up are the ones most likely to connect their Jewishness to their ethical/moral choices…For the remainder, I think they likely haven't had enough Jewish experiences or education for their identity to consciously factor into much of anything they do, and I think the declining numbers in every category bare this out, unfortunately.”

When asked what it means to “be Jewish,” the results showed a split between young Jews of this generation and the older generation. Fewer than 10% of today’s college students place significance on observance of Jewish law (compared to the 20% from the older generation), and only 40% consider “working for justice and equality in society” a specifically Jewish value (compared to the 55% from the previous generation).

Especially significant is that 80% of respondents identified that being a young Jew in America meant being part of a cultural group while only 58% answered that it meant being a member of a religious group. As Jewish college students make this distinction, it has a clear affect on their other responses.

Other results showed that while Jewish affiliation may have been pushed before high school, respondents might have become less religiously affiliated during high school and especially into college. While 50 – 80% of respondents had a bar/bat mitzvah, attended some form of religious institution, participated in a Jewish youth group and/or attended Jewish summer camp, only 25% of male and female respondents attended a Hebrew High school.

Although results indicated that 64% of respondents had four Jewish grandparents, 27% had only two Jewish grandparents. The survey did not indicate whether these two were on a singular paternal or maternal side, or were a combination of one Jewish grandparent from each side.

The percent of respondents with all Jewish grandparents is far lower than the previous generation and could also explain many of the other survey results.