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Around the Jewish World New Survey of Dutch Jewry Shows Few Marriages or Kids, Much Divorce

November 1, 2001
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The first demographic survey of Dutch Jewry in 35 years has yielded some sobering results.

According to the survey, more than two-thirds of Dutch Jews are unmarried at 30, more than twice the rate among the general population. In some age brackets, the rate of divorce among Jews is double the national average.

The survey also shows high intermarriage rates and very low fertility rates compared to the general population.

Dutch Jewish leaders’ initial reactions to the long-awaited survey varied from worry to skepticism about the survey.

“We must find ways to involve this fragmented community, or there won’t be much left,” said Ronny Naftaniel, member of the Central Jewish Organization in the Netherlands.

However, most Jewish leaders were surprisingly low-key, blaming “overly pessimistic” results on the researchers’ interpretation of who is a Jew and pointing out that participation in Jewish events, at least, is on the rise.

Initiated by the Jewish social work agency JMW in Amsterdam, the survey provides a wealth of new detail.

The Nazis used meticulous records of the 140,000-member prewar community to deport large numbers of Dutch Jews, and only one-quarter survived the war. Since the war, attempts at demographic studies have met with widespread resistance.

The report estimates the current Jewish population in the Netherlands at 44,000, or .275 percent of the country’s total population of 16 million. The 1966 survey found a similar number of Jews, but the current figure includes 30 percent of the community that is not halachically Jewish — people with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers — plus a large number of Russian and Israeli immigrants who arrived in recent decades.

The Jewish population is likely to diminish due to low birth rates and high intermarriage, the researchers conclude.

Jewish policy-makers now face an uncomfortable choice: ignore or play down the results, or look for ways to turn the tide.

According to the survey, the Jewish family is not doing well: The overall number of couples with children fell from 44 percent in 1966 to 28 percent today. Nearly half of Jews under age 35 — 44 percent — live alone, as opposed to 23 percent among the general population; only half of those over 35 live with a partner and children, as opposed to 61 percent among the general Dutch population.

The low number of couples with children is partly due to a high divorce rate, but birth rates also are down. On average, first-time Jewish mothers in the Netherlands are 35 years old — seven years older than their counterparts among non-Jews — though observant Jews are having children at a younger age. In addition, a third of all Jewish women born since 1955 are still childless at age 40, and the percentage is rising.

Women of the postwar generation who start a family have, on average, 1.5 children; that, too, is below the national average of 1.9 children per woman.

In the younger generation, 76 percent of men and 68 percent of women intermarry — 30 percent of the Jews in the survey have only a Jewish father, and 24 percent who are halachically Jewish have only a Jewish mother.

Of the 47 percent that have two Jewish parents, fully half intermarry. However, those with two Jewish parents and/or a Jewish spouse show lower divorce rates.

The survey of 1,036 respondents, which included sociological questions, found that many more Jews than non-Jews in the Netherlands rank themselves high on a “loneliness scale.”

About half say they still suffer the after-effects of wartime experiences, either their own or their parents’, and these people tend to feel more lonely. In addition, young people who lack a partner were more likely to describe themselves as lonely.

Religious practice is fairly unimportant for most, as 57 percent said they are completely non-observant — and Orthodox Jews now make up just 6 percent of the community.

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