Pew Survey: Jews Are Educated. No, Really Educated


The People of the Book hit the books longer than members of other major religions — a lot longer.

That is a finding of the latest study of the Pew Research Center.

According to Pew — whose report in the 2013 “Portrait of Jewish American” that 20 percent of Jews in this describe themselves as having “no religion” shook up Jewish leadership — Jews around the world far outpace other religious groups in the amount of formal education they receive.

“Jews are more highly educated than any other major religious group around the world … this high level of education has been the case for several decades, meaning that Jewish educational gains across recent generations have been modest,” the study states. “There is relatively little variation across countries on this measure of attainment.”

None of these findings are a surprise to the Jewish community, which long has put a premium on the value of higher education, said Conrad Hackett, the Pew Center’s associate director of research and senior demographer. “It’s a huge gap.”

The study confirmed what many people had already suspected about religious groups’ relative levels of academic achievement, Hackett said. “I’m not sure that anyone had quantified this before.”

“These gaps in educational achievement are partly a function of where religious groups are concentrated throughout the world,” the study stated. “For instance, the vast majority of the world’s Jews live in the United States and Israel – two economically developed countries with high levels of education overall.”

The study, conducted in 151 countries, included Jews in the 24 lands that constitute 89 percent of the world’s Jewish population, Hackett told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview.

The study includes only Jews who identify “religiously,” not culturally as Jewish.

“It is no surprise that Jews are the most educated of the world's religious groups. Jews have long respected learning as a value, viewing it (even in Eastern Europe) as a form of capital, equivalent to wealth,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor of Jewish history at Brandies University. “The success of Jews over the past century has much to do with Jews' intellectual attainments.”

“It also is not surprising that Jews have made comparatively small gains in terms of secular education relative to Muslims, Hindus, and even Christians since Jews were already starting from a very high level of secular education,” said Jonathan Krasner, associate professor of Jewish education research at Brandeis University, in an email interview.

Shulem Deen, a former member of the Skverer chasidic group whose 2015 memoir “All Who Go Do Not Return” (Graywolf Press) chronicles his spiritual path, said that while “traditionally Jews have valued education for its own sake,” and for its role in reaching “economic success,” he questioned whether the higher levels of education described in the study are a guarantee of intellectual achievement.

“Education can be acquired in other ways,” by intensive reading and studying on one’s own, said Deen, who called himself an “autodidact” who after he left the chasidic world embarked on such a remedial program to compensate for the foundation of secular subjects he had not received in the Skverer educational system.

The putative shortcomings of many chasidic school systems — especially for boys — is the subject of advocacy and lawsuits coordinated by Naftuli Moster, a product of Belzer school, who has demanded that government education officials here enforce laws that guarantee students in all non-public schools a full education.

Among the findings of the study, which was released today:

n Jews have an average of 13.4 years of formal schooling. The figures for Christians are 9.3 years; for Buddhists, 7.9 years; for Muslims, 5.6 years; and for Hindus, 5.6 years. The figure for the religiously unaffiliated is 8.8 years.

n Sixty-one percent of Jews have attained a post-secondary (beyond high school) degree; no other religious groups has more than 20 percent.

n A higher percentage of Jewish women in the youngest generation surveyed has post-secondary degree than the oldest generation (69-59 percent), but that figure has declined across the generations among Jewish men (66-57 percent).

n Only 1 percent of Jews have received “no formal schooling.” For Christians, eight percent; Buddhists, ten percent; Muslims, 36 percent; Hindus, 41 percent.

n Israeli Jews “are more educated” than Israeli Muslims, but “the gap is narrowing.”

“The number of years of schooling received by the average adult in all the religious groups studied has been rising in recent decades,” the report stated, “with the greatest overall gains made by the groups that lagged furthest behind.”

And, according to the report, “Gender gaps also are narrowing somewhat. The youngest generations of Christian, Buddhist, and unaffiliated women have achieved parity with their male counterparts in average years of schooling. And among the youngest Jewish adults, Jewish women have spent nearly one more year in school, on average, than Jewish men.”

“The reason for this secular education gap between young Jewish women and men raises a significant red flag. A larger share of younger Jews in North America identify as Orthodox and fewer young Orthodox men are attaining advanced degrees today than their older Orthodox male counterparts,” Jonathan Krasner of Brandeis University said. “The Pew study puts a big, fat exclamation point on the UJA-Federation 2011 survey findings on secular education and income among the Orthodox. If I were sitting at the UJA-Federation, I'd be very worried right now about how these long-term trends may stress the community's resources.”

While “some scholars have hypothesized that as education levels increase, many people will shed religious identity and turn to science or other nonreligious sources for answers to life’s most important questions,” the Pew study reported that its findings “provide mixed evidence … the pattern is murky.” And the study did not offer figures for this correlation in the Jewish community.

The study also did not break down its Jewish responses according to denominational affiliation, thus could not differentiate between Orthodox and members of non-Orthodox groups, and did not include the years that many Orthodox Jews spend learning in yeshivot and women’s seminaries.

If time spent in such Orthodox institutions were included in the overall Jewish figures, the “years of education would be even higher,” Hackett said.