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New Study Finds Strong Connection Between Intermarriage and Divorce

July 19, 1989
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Marriages between American Jews and non-Jews are twice as likely to end in divorce as marriages between Jews, according to the results of a far-reaching study on intermarriage released Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Jews who remarry after a divorce are about three times as likely to intermarry as Jews marrying for the first time, the study says.

As a result, say the study’s authors, the forces that are reshaping American Jewish family life — intermarriage, divorce and remarriage — are bound to increase over the coming years.

The study, conducted by the North American Jewish Data Bank of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is an examination of the marital histories of nearly 6,500 Jewish adults from nine cities throughout the United States.

“Intermarriage, Divorce and Remarriage Among American Jews, 1982-1987,” was co-authored by Drs. Barry Kosmin, director of the Data Bank; Nava Lerer, a postdoctoral fellow with the Data Bank; and Egon Mayer, professor of sociology at CUNY and Brooklyn College.

They extracted their data from demographic surveys conducted by local Jewish federations since 1982.

If there is an overriding theme to the study, it is that any idyllic vision of the stability of the Jewish family is a thing of the past.

According to the study, among American Jews who are under the age of 40 and married at least once, 50 percent of the males and 38 percent of the females are currently either intermarried, divorced or both.

“One of the more dramatic findings is that people still have a nostalgic view of the traditional Jewish family,” Mayer said in an interview. “But if you look at the modern Jews, they are as far from a traditional model as you can get.”


The intermarriage rate among all American Jews, according to the study, is 14 percent for first marriages and climbs to 40 percent for the second marriage.

But when the study focuses only on the youngest generation of marriageable Jews, the intermarriage and divorce rates soar.

Thirty-seven percent of the Jewish men who are under 40 are intermarried, five times as many as those over 60. And 24 percent of young Jewish women are intermarried, 12 times as many as women over 60.

These findings show not only that intermarriage is increasing, but also that significant differences in the intermarriage rates for Jewish men and women persist.

“One implication of this growing gap,” the researchers say, “is that there will continue to be a growing demographic pressure upon Jewish women to intermarry.”

The researchers were most surprised to learn that intermarriages continue to be at a much higher risk of divorce than marriages between two Jews, in every age group.

For first marriages, the rate of divorce for Jews marrying Jews is 17 percent, but among the intermarried it nearly doubles to 32 percent.

“The thinking was that if intermarriage was on the increase, then Jewish families were making peace with it and people were living with it much more comfortably,” said Mayer, who is the author of “Love and Tradition; Marriage Between Christians and Jews.”

“We figured that it was no longer much of a source of family disruption as it was in the past,” he said. “The surprise is that on the divorce front, not much has changed.”


Another surprise, said Mayer, was that divorced Jews who had been involved in intermarriages tend to marry non-Jews again.

“We knew that previous divorce does lead to more intermarriage,” he said. “The intriguing thing is that given that fact that intermarriage leads to a higher divorce rate, people are willing to go into a high-risk marriage, if I can use that term.”

Even among the “inmarrieds,” however, divorce rates are high compared to previous generations: The study says divorce rates among Jews between the ages of 40 and 59 who marry within the faith are double that of those over 60.

Some of the survey findings supply, at least by implication, prescriptions for reversing these trends, which have long been viewed negatively in the Jewish community.

“Having more Jewish friends and being older appear to be the strongest predictors” for Jews to marry Jews, according to the study.

In addition, the study notes that Jews with higher incomes and a higher level of education are somewhat more likely to marry Jews.

However, write the authors, “the effect of Jewish education appears to be quite small as compared to the other variables” in predicting marriage inside or outside the religion.

“Increasing the opportunities for socializing among Jews at every age level, but particularly in the young adult or singles groups, is absolutely critical” to preventing intermarriage, said Mayer.

The study did not attempt to treat differences among the various Jewish denominations.

The North American Jewish Data Bank was established by the Council of Jewish Federations and the Center for Jewish Studies of the Graduate School and University Center of CUNY.

Implications of its intermarriage study and similar studies will be the subject of a conference this fall at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.

Mayer called the study and conference “part of an ongoing commitment to deal with intermarriage in a systematic way.”

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