Commentary Magazine


Study of Man: What Sociology Knows About American Jews

The sociological study of American Jews should help us to find the answers to many of the questions about the nature of Jewish life that are continually being raised in private and public discussion by Jews and non-Jews. However, as Nathan Glazer here points out in this review of the field, it has as yet realized only a very small part of its potential. Examining the relatively small number of studies available, he tries to suggest why they give only partial and incomplete answers to most of the questions. This is the first of two articles on this subject; in a later article, Mr. Glazer will discuss studies of Jewish communities.

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The sociology of Jews—like a good part of sociology in general—has developed out of the ideological and practical needs of various social and political tendencies. Sociological investigations in Europe went hand-in-hand with a program—Zionism or Diaspora nationalism. Jewish sociologists pointed with alarm to a growing rate of intermarriage, a falling birth rate, an ageing population, an “unbalanced” occupational distribution. They apprehensively traced the demographic traits of the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe, for these latter were beginning to exhibit tendencies to the same decline that was already far advanced in Western and Central Europe. Sociology in Palestine—as far as the outlines of such a discipline can be discerned—is equally problem-minded, but it replaces alarm and apprehension with satisfaction, figuratively flexing the muscles of its Jews to show how normal they are. It counts the number of workers and farmers, and demonstrates the social and psychological health of the young people.

Thus the sociology of Jews has been animated, and undoubtedly colored, by specific preoccupations and political moods, whether of alarm, apprehension, or satisfaction. To be sure, as already suggested, almost all sociology arises from similar preoccupations and interested or practical motives. However, sociology at its best does seem to require that its animating moods precede or follow political and practical involvements at some distance, rather than accompany them; it seems also to require an appreciation of the complexities of human society, in which simple solutions generally solve nothing.

One group of Jewish sociologists—roughly defined, the Yiddish-speaking ones of Eastern Europe whose most important scholarly expression was, and is, the Yivo—lived in a Jewish environment that was hopeless enough from any practically political point of view to permit a great sociology: objective, analytical, and pursued for its own sake. They could not point to too much in the way of results before their world was destroyed; and while their efforts to continue in America have indeed produced, in such work as the Yivo autobiography contests (see Moshe Kligsberg, “The Golden Land,” COMMENTARY, May 1948), some of the most interesting Jewish sociology in America, one feels that this is but little compared with the sociology they might have produced in Eastern Europe.

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The Jewish sociology of Europe and Palestine has been a sociology of numbers, rather than of concepts and ideas. Of course, all sociology might well be seen as an enterprise that tries to give mathematical form to social concepts, even though a good part of sociology is forced to satisfy itself with only a symbolic or partial measuring of its concepts. (The tendency of most recent years has been to become impatient with concepts—like “anomie” or “alienation,” or “Protestant ethic” or “class,” or “acculturation” and “assimilation”—and to go out and reduce them to numbers in short order. This endeavor has not been notably successful: few authorities are satisfied that we have good mathematical measuring scales of the most important concepts in sociology.) Yet, viewing the wide range of possibilities between a conceptual sociology without numbers and a numerical sociology without concepts, there can be little question that European Jewish sociology—as is perhaps inevitable in any sociology so closely linked with such practical problems as the possible loss of identity and disappearance of the Jewish group, the efforts to insure its survival, and comparisons with non-Jewish groups—tended toward the latter pole. Its concepts were relatively few and simple: assimilation, survival, normalization. It was the task of sociologists to translate these into numbers, and since government statistics in Europe and Palestine obligingly differentiated Jews from others, this was no great problem.

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Now this form of sociology, as it was pursued by Arthur Ruppin, Liebman Hersch, and Jacob Lestchinsky, was rendered impossible in America by one simple yet overwhelming fact: The American census does not separate Jews from non-Jews, nor are they separated in most sets of statistics.

Perhaps this fact need not have been so overwhelming, had our ideas of what a Jewish sociology should be, been different. However, the major concerns of Jewish sociology involved just this matter of comparing Jews with non Jews. Zionists and Diaspora nationalists were interested in showing how unique the Jews were, how special their problems, how weak economically and socially, how threatened by intermarriage and assimilation. Similarly, the “defense” interest—the need, increasingly felt in recent years, to protect Jews from the attacks of their enemies—required evidence to demonstrate that the Jews did not control industry, and that they included the proper number of bankers and manual laborers.

In either case, obviously, relative numbers as between Jews and non-Jews were essential, even though in America “non-Jews” included Negroes, old immigrant groups from certain countries, and new immigrant groups from others—each of which, if they were statistically crystallized out of the homogeneous mass of “non-Jews,” might show as unique traits as the Jewish group.

But in America—whether one’s interest is animated by intellectual curiosity or the needs of practical polity—one must soon face the fact of the sheer unavailability of the kind of well-kept series of statistics needed to test or establish the basic generalizations of interest to “nationalists” and “defensists.” The inability to use the census literally cuts the ground from under the old type of Jewish sociology, so that its few American products float about in a kind of uncharted limbo.

The lack of census data deprives us not only of exact information about the total number of Jews in America and related demographic material on age groups, marital status, and so on. A census gives us much more than that. It provides a great deal of economic information, facts about education and migration, and other social data, and it permits us to get all this information for very small areas—not only cities, but neighborhoods and parts of neighborhoods within cities. Even more important perhaps, it permits us to calculate rates. In many cases we can get from various sources absolute figures on Jews for given areas and given behavior patterns—let us say, the number of Jewish delinquents, or students, or users of libraries, or Jewish criminals and insane. But we can deduce very little from these figures unless we can translate them into a rate or percentage, and for this we need a figure for the total number of Jews or non-Jews in a given locality or age-range.

And finally, the census permits a historical depth. We can compute rates for every ten years, and sometimes oftener, and trace the social development of an entire group, or parts of it.

All this is out of the question for the study of American Jews. Jacob Lestchinsky, Nathan Goldberg, and a few others with more European training have made heroic and ingenious efforts to make good the lack of these fundamental statistics: they extrapolate from immigration statistics alone, which did list “Hebrews,” they try to make “Russians” in the census reports do for Jews, and so on. They have ransacked the official statistics for clues—and turned them up—in ways American trained social scientists would hardly think of. But adding up all possible clues and leads, their work remains fragmentary and only a shadow of what it was in Europe.

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The census, of course, is not all there is to sociology. American sociology in particular has emphasized a variety of special approaches that are relatively independent of the census. The materials used in such studies are autobiographies, family histories, the records of organizations and of the facts of community life: each of these kinds of data could reveal particular patterns of Jewish life in America, could exhibit certain formal sociological concepts and ideas—like acculturation or assimilation, or the conflict between two cultures, or a rise in social status.

This type of work has a rather different character from that based on the census or other statistical data covering an entire field. The study of a family “illustrates” a case of rapid occupational changes: a set of statistics on the proportions of Jews in different occupations over a period of time would “prove” it. Yet both types of study are revealing, and one does not replace the other. We want to “know” the truth in intimate living detail, as well as in broad statistical outline. (It is the second, obviously, that is also more useful politically.)

This “illustrative” and intensive sociology has produced the best in American sociology—such as the Lynds’ Middletown and Thomas’ and Znaniecki’s Polish Peasant in Europe and America—but it has not been used to expand our knowledge of American Jews. There are a half-dozen small community studies—and that is about all. There are no full-length studies of Jewish personality, no full-length studies of the Jewish family, no full-length studies of a Jewish community—though a few of the studies do come close to it. Magnificent work of this sort has been done on the American Negro—Davis and Gardner’s Deep South, Dollard’s Caste and Class in a Southern Town, Drake and Cayton’s Black Metropolis, Davis and Dollard’s Children of Bondage. But American Jewish sociologists have not turned their efforts to their own group. Robert E. Park, the Chicago sociologist who exercised an enormous influence in the 20’s and 30’s and who was in very large measure responsible for American sociology’s interest in race and ethnic groups, is said to have sent his Negro and Jewish students back to the milieux from which they were escaping: presumably he felt it would do American sociology good because these students would do their best work among the social groups they knew best. But one slim volume, Louis Wirth’s The Ghetto, was all that this ferment in Chicago produced for the Jews.

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There is yet another type of sociological investigation that is independent of the census—indeed, far more independent than that we have just discussed—and which is potentially capable of throwing light on Jews. I refer to speculative efforts to understand a social type or group or relationship, not by empirical investigation, but by trying to grasp what is essential to the phenomenon, what is logically implied by its nature; this is disdainfully referred to as “armchair sociology” by American sociologists. This type of sociology has two important functions: It creates an arsenal of concepts and hypotheses to guide the more empirical-minded sociologist in a concrete investigation; and it synthesizes in general conclusions the information that accumulates from empirical investigation, historical research, and all the work of the various disciplines concerned with man’s social life.

A good part of what can be called the sociology of the Jews falls into this category. One writes of the “urban type,” or the “stranger,” or the “marginal man,” or the “pariah,” or a variety of possible social types—and brings in the Jews as an example. This has been done by European sociologists in particular, but it is also not uncommon among American sociologists.

What do we learn about Jews from this? It is very hard to say. When someone as erudite and penetrating as Max Weber creates an ideal type—this is what this type of sociological activity results in—a great variety of different phenomena are illuminated, understanding combines in a coherent pattern what before seemed to belong to many different realms, knowledge is in some way expanded. When someone with the amount of knowledge and insight of the average graduate student in the social sciences applies what is referred to as Weber’s “method of ideal types” in an attempt to clarify some problem, the result is naturally puerile, and it becomes clear that Weber’s method must be used by men like Weber.

It would be unfair to dismiss in this way much of the serious thought that has gone into the effort to understand Jews and their peculiarities by sociological speculation. There is one concept in particular that has been developed in this way, a creation of the Chicago school, which seems peculiarly appropriate to the situation of the Jews. This is the concept of the “marginal man,” the man who lives in two cultures—because he is a Eurasian, a half-caste, a mulatto, or a Jew. It was developed in a few essays by Robert E. Park (see the collection of his essays just published by the Free Press, Glencoe, Illinois: Race and Culture), it was spelled out further in a full-length book by Everett Stonequist (The Marginal Man, Scribner’s, 1937), and it was applied by Mr. Stonequist directly to the situation of the Jews in an essay pub Ushed in Jews in a Gentile World (Macmillan, 1942; edited by Isacque Graeber and Steuart Henderson Britt: this is as yet the best book on the sociology of the Jews published in America).

Presumably such concepts are, for some problems and to some extent, helpful. Yet it is my feeling that, in their application to Jews in America, they have not yet been too helpful. Thinking in terms of “ideal types,” one surreptitiously falls into the attitude of seeing all Jewish history, and all Jews, as one, and fails to take seriously into consideration the unique sociological character of Jews in America—and it is unique, as every stage of history is unique. The facts themselves, few as they are, are more complex and varied than the developed concepts.

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To sum up, academic American sociology has to date given us very little about Jews. But we do have instead something else, by no means just as good, but uniquely Jewish: we have the records of Jewish social work, and some hundreds of “surveys” that have been undertaken to further it. Social work in this country has developed along “religious” lines: we have Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish agencies. The Jewish agencies have collected enormous masses of material on Jewish families and their problems, Jewish orphans and children, the Jewish aged, and so on. This material has rarely been analyzed from the point of view of the light it may throw on Jewish history and sociology. It has only been nibbled at here and there: some day it will undoubtedly be subjected to organized and thorough investigation. Yet we cannot be too enthusiastic as to what this will reveal. We have often discovered that it is difficult to use data assembled for one purpose—in this case, the purpose of running a social agency—for another purpose; and that it is more economical to go out oneself and collect data ad hoc. Nevertheless, no other ethnic group in the country has such material, and perhaps the sociology of American Jews will eventually be richer because of it.

Supplementing the raw materials provided by social work are the “surveys” undertaken by various Jewish communities and by national organizations in order to help plan social services of communities. These surveys, while they often look like the community studies of American sociology, unfortunately very rarely are. They must perforce consume most of the energy and funds available in finding out the simple census data: how many Jews are in the community, what Jewish neighborhoods are growing and what declining, what are the numbers of children, adolescents, and age groups that have to be planned for, and so on. But they do go on to speak, to some extent, of Jewish education, of the interest in preserving traditional activities or adapting them to the American scene, and other matters of great interest.

It is these surveys, limited and defective as they are in many ways, that form the main basis for research and speculation about the American population (see Sophia Robison, “How Many Jews in America,” COMMENTARY, August 1949), Jewish occupational distribution (see Samuel H. Flowerman, “Should Jews Change Their Occupation?” COMMENTARY, April 1947), and many other questions. This same poor hoard of information is worked over again and again, often yielding very little more than the average Jew could draw from his own experience, and often lacking whatever certainty and exactness would justify their unoriginality.

Most recently, we see the beginnings of a another kind of agency interest, and the possibility of another type of sociology. The defense agencies—the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Labor Committee—have to varying degrees abandoned their earlier interest in the “apologetic” sociology that they helped create, and have undertaken intensive studies of anti-Semitism and anti-Semites; secondarily, they have begun to study Jews, to see how they react to anti-Semitism and how their “morale” might be strengthened against anti-Semitism.

If these studies are pursued further, they may yet become the bulk of American Jewish sociology—certainly, at this time, studies of anti-Semitism, prejudice, and group relations sponsored by the defense agencies form the bulk of our research on these and similar subjects. Yet all this still remains only a possibility.

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II

What can we say about American Jews on the basis of these studies? Everyone will find different facts salient and crucial: my own survey convinces me that there is enough evidence to make two large and important generalizations about the social characteristics of American Jews:

(1) They have advanced more rapidly, and are more prosperous, than any of the other ethnic groups that came to this country during more or less the same period, and are probably even more prosperous than most ethnic groups that arrived earlier. The number of workers among them tends rapidly to decline, the number of proprietors, white-collar workers, and professionals to rise. To this prime fact many other characteristics are related: their behavior and tastes, their crime rates, their educational characteristics, and so on.

(2) Despite their prosperity, Jews show very little tendency to assimilate: they intermarry less than any other ethnic group. They do acculturate—that is, they drop traditional habits and speech, and become culturally indistinguishable from other Americans; yet the line that divides them from the others remains sharper than that separating any other white group of immigrants.

The evidence for both these generalizations could be much ampler than it is, yet I think it is sufficient to make it very unlikely they will be overthrown by further research. I would like to present some of it, with particular emphasis on the techniques used, since so often we find that results have to be discarded because the techniques used cannot give us reliable and valid conclusions.

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The most neatly constructed evidence for the first thesis is to be found in The Social Systems of American Ethnic Groups (W. L. Warner and Leo Srole, Yale, 1945), which was reviewed at length by Harold Orlansky in this department in January 1946. This was part of the Yankee City Series, an elaborate investigation of a New England town of less than 20,000 persons. It has proved more useful to us, I believe, than the studies of Jewish communities as such for one simple reason: in the Yankee City study everyone in the town came under the investigators’ lenses. In most studies of only the Jews in a community, the investigators, trying to find all the Jews, may miss just those who, because they are not the type identified with the organized Jewish community, may radically affect the general results. More significantly, because only one segment of the general population is studied in the Jewish community studies, it is obviously much harder to make comparisons between Jews and the rest of the population: one usually has to use census figures for the whole population that do not refer to the same year as one’s own study; one cannot, as already mentioned, distinguish Jews from non-Jews in the census figures; the categories of the census and one’s own study are not equivalent; and so on.

Consequently, we arrive at the paradoxical fact that the study of everybody in a town gives us better information about Jews than the study of Jews alone.

In the Yankee City study, then, everyone in town was interviewed and rated on an occupational status index, constructed by giving different weights to different occupations. The Jews emerge with the highest occupational status in Yankee City (3.32), higher than the Irish (2.52), the Italians (2.28), or even the old-stock natives (2.56). One might argue, as Mr. Orlansky did, that it is unrealistic to give a weight of 6 to professions and 4 to management, and equally unrealistíc to consider both the small shopkeeper and the entrepreneur “management.” And adjustments along these lines would certainly lower the Jewish occupational status index. However, on other indices less subject to criticism—a residential status index and a social status index—Jews also come out remarkably well.

Similar testimony to the rapid economic advance and general prosperity of the Jews of small towns is to be found in practically every community study that has been made. The question arises whether the Jews of the large cities share in this social advance; if not, they would significantly modify this generalization, since the great bulk of American Jewry is in the large cities.

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Now it is much harder to find out about the occupational distribution of Jews in large cities than of Jews in small towns; in the latter case one can hope that a survey of all known Jews and the estimate of local community leaders will not be far off. But estimates and surveys in big cities can be very far off.

Not having a census, we must resort to something like a census. And we have something very like a census of the Jews of New York City in the 1935 WPA study of the youth of New York. Everyone between sixteen and twenty-four in every hundredth residence was interviewed, and a great deal of information was established, not only about these young people but about their parents.

To go directly to the information that interests us: 34 per cent of the fathers of the Jewish youth were proprietors, managers, or officials, against 15 per cent of the fathers of the non-Jewish youth; 3 per cent of the Jewish fathers were unskilled workers, as against 19 per cent of the fathers of the non-Jewish youth.

These figures seem decisive. There still remains a large Jewish working class in New York: 45 per cent of the fathers of the Jewish youth are skilled and semi-skilled workers. But when we realize that this is New York, the center of the Jewish working class; that this is 1935, fifteen years ago, and that the number of Jewish workers has been declining steadily since then; and that, of this generation of fathers, at least 83 per cent—according to the same study—were born abroad, then we see that the Jewish working class in America, while it still remains sizable, is essentially a transitory phenomenon.

And what is replacing it? The figures on the occupations of the youth themselves are interesting. Jews make up 31 per cent of the youth of New York City; yet they form 56 per cent of all young people who are proprietors and managers, 43 per cent of all the young in clerical occupations, 37 per cent of all those in professions, 24 per cent of all those in skilled or semi-skilled occupations, 10 per cent of those in unskilled occupations. These are people between 16 and 24; as they grow older one can be reasonably sure the proportions of proprietors and professionals among them rises.

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It would seem that while the middle-class characteristics of the Jews of a large city like New York are less marked than those of the Jews of small cities, they are there nevertheless. This conclusion is borne out by characteristics other than occupation: 8 per cent of the Jewish youth were married, as against 13 per cent of the non-Jewish; 3.6 per cent of the Jewish youth had children, as against 8 per cent of the non-Jewish youth; 12 per cent were on relief, as against 15 per cent of the non-Jewish youth. (Early marriage and a higher birth rate are, at any rate in this country, characteristics of the lower classes.)

And the pattern of their recreational activities is very interesting: “The principal recreational activities of Jewish and non-Jewish youth are the same, but more of the Jewish than of the non-Jewish had participated in them. Not only had more of the Jewish young men and women than of the others spent time listening to the radio, going to the movies, and visiting and entertaining friends; more of them had participated in athletic games, had gone swimming, played tennis or golf, attended concerts and lectures. More (though the differences were not so great) had hiked, gone to dances, and visited museums. Fewer however had spent any time on manual diversions, such as sewing or knitting, or doing carpentering, or putting a radio in condition, or repairing a motor.”

These finding s strike one as peculiarly significant: what we have here—in part—is a middle-class pattern of behavior as against a lower-class pattern (undoubtedly we also have some reflection of traditional Jewish cultural interests). Studies always show the middle class more active—no matter at what—than the lower class. Perhaps the balance would be righted if middle-class investigators added to the lower class’s sum of recreational activities the amount of time spent in bars, on the numbers game, on sex, and various other activities that generally do not get into a study of “leisure-time activities” but which are nevertheless recreational.

This patter n might also explain something puzzling about Jews in America: even informed people find it hard to believe that the Jews make up only 3.5 per cent of the American population: one sees so many more! May not this be owing to the fact that their pursuit of middle-class activities and occupations makes Jews much more mobile and therefore more visible?

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The middle class is of course more than a pattern of occupational distribution, or a matter of income: it is a whole culture, a complex of beliefs and behaviors. Dr. Kinsey pointed out that one could tell a middle-class person from his sexual history, and vice versa. And those members of the lower class who are going to rise into the middle class can be distinguished very early by a certain pattern of activities: their sexual restraint, their interest in certain kinds of cultural and social activities, and so on. And consequently it seems reasonable that the study of even lower-class Jews would find a marked bias toward middleclass types of activities. This, at any rate, is one of the possible interpretations of a study of the Jewish neighborhoods of New York City by Julius B. Mailer (Jewish Social Service Quarterly, 1934). Dr. Mailer first determined what areas of New York were entirely Jewish or almost entirely Jewish: and he then tried to see what could be learned about those areas from the census, and the records of the Health Department, the Board of Education, and the police.

He resorted to the “Yom Kippur” method in order to find the all-Jewish neighborhoods: if almost all the school children of a neighborhood were absent on Yom Kippur, it was assumed it was Jewish. He fixed on fifteen health districts, with a total population of over 400,000, as solidly Jewish. (There are three hundred health districts in the city. He could not use larger districts—for example, school districts, of which there are forty-six—for in not one of them did Yom Kippur absences go over 90 per cent—though in 1916, seven of these forty-six did show more than 90 per cent absent on Yom Kippur. Clearly, the Jews had spread more widely over the city between 1916 and 1930.)

One cannot generalize, as Dr. Mailer believed one could, about all the Jews of New York on the basis of these fifteen health districts; Jews who live in solidly Jewish neighborhoods must be different in many ways from those who do not. But we can find out what a “Jewish district” is like, sociologically speaking; and though a few districts of fairly high social status were included in the study, one could further generalize that, on the whole, these areas of greatest Jewish concentration included the poorer Jews and left out the richer Jews. If we compare our Jewish districts with the rest of the city, we find the following: the birth rate in the Jewish districts is somewhat smaller, the death rate is also smaller, and the median rental (giving one measure of economic status) is about the same. The homicide rate is half that for the city, and so is the death-from-accident rate; the suicide rate is also somewhat smaller, and indeed all death rates, except that for diabetes, are lower.

The school children are generally in better health. The average IQ of the school children in Jewish districts is 106, as against 100 for the city. The Jewish districts have many fewer retarded students, and a somewhat higher attendance rate. (Dr. Mailer tells us that while 35 per cent of the elementary school children in all of New York are Jewish, this percentage rises to 53 for high schools.) The juvenile delinquency rate is less than half the city-wide average. Scientific caution demands that we again remind readers that these are the characteristics of presumably Jewish districts, in which five or ten per cent of the population may still be non-Jewish; and it is within the realm of possibility (though most unlikely) that these characteristics of the Jewish districts are in part attributable to the non-Jews living in them. Yet it seems most likely that these are indeed the characteristics particular to big-city Jews, who belong, for the most part, to the lower class and the lower middle class: and who, in their patterns of violence, of educational attendance, of disease, are more middle-class than the city as a whole.

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There is one more study that would seem to highlight our main point most strikingly. Between 1921 and 1923, about 1500 California school-children, from grade three through high school, all with IQ’s above 140, were selected for an extended study of the “gifted child.” The third volume reporting on the fate of this group, The Gifted Child Grows Up, by Lewis M. Terman (the American father of the intelligence test) and Melita H. Oden, has recently been published by Stanford University Press.

Now it may be objected that we can learn nothing about Jews in general from such a study: this is a very special group, and has none of the qualities of “randomness” that a good sample should have. But where we have a group set up on the basis of a criterion having nothing to do with one’s Jewishness—in this case, the IQ of children—then a comparison between the Jews and non-Jews drawn into such a net must be, it seems to me, as revealing as comparisons between Jews and non-Jews in general.

As might have been expected, Jews were represented in this group in numbers far in excess of their actual proportion of the population. Slightly more than 10 per cent of the entire group had two Jewish parents, and a special chapter is devoted to them, as “it would be interesting to know what differences exist, if any, between gifted subjects of various racial descent.”1

We find that 57.5 per cent of the Jewish male children grew up to be “professionals” (Census Group I), and 44 per cent of the non-Jewish; roughly the same proportion of Jews and non-Jews are “semi-professional and higher business” (Census Group II): and only 15 per cent of the Jews are in “clerical, skilled trades, and retail business, farming . . . semi-skilled trades, minor clerical and minor business, slightly skilled trades and other occupations requiring little training or ability” (Census Groups III and below), compared with 31 per cent of the non-Jews. Physicians account for 26 per cent of Jewish professional men, and only 11 per cent of the non-Jewish; for lawyers the figures are 30 per cent Jewish and 29 per cent non-Jewish. On the other hand, only 9 per cent of the Jewish professionals teach in colleges, while 18 per cent of the non-Jewish do; 9 per cent of the Jews are in engineering, and 16 per cent of the non-Jews. Here we see, perhaps—besides the influence of discrimination—the occupational shift from the second to the third generations, when the sons of white collar workers and businessmen become professionals. The income of the Jewish men averaged nearly 25 per cent higher than that of the non-Jews in 1940, and in 1944, 42 per cent above the non-Jewish average.

While the Jews have achieved a considerably higher occupational status than the non-Jewish, their fathers’ status was considerably lower than that of the non-Jewish fathers. Using the three classifications described above we find:

Census Group Jewish Fathers Non-Jewish Fathers
  (Per Cent) (Per Cent)
I (highest occupational status) 15 35
II (next highest occupational status) 56 30
III and below 29 35

In other words, starting from a position of lower status, as measured by the father’s occupation, Jews realize, in higher proportion, positions of higher status.

This completes the presentation of evidence on the first generalization—that Jews are a middle-class group, increasingly to be found in business and the professions, and consequently more prosperous than non-Jews. The selection has been, inevitably, somewhat arbitrary: many other studies bearing on this point have not been referred to. I have given priority to studies previously not often cited, and to those that embody, to my mind, sounder techniques than the estimating and partial interviewing that is so common in the field of Jewish sociological research.

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On the second major thesis suggested—that of Jewish assimilation—there is much less evidence to present, but it is as decisive as the evidence on occupation and class. The term “assimilation” is of course one of those weasel words: Zionists denounce non-Zionists as assimilationists, and sometimes non-Zionists even denounce Zionists as assimilationists, and Yiddish journalists often act as if everyone who did not speak Yiddish was an assimilationist. Julius Drachsler, in his book Democracy and Assimilation (Macmillan, 1920), gave the least debatable criterion: assimilation should be measured by intermarriage. All degrees of assimilation less than that are matters of party polemics or individual judgment. When Jews marry non-Jews in large numbers, however, there is no question as to whether they are assimilating: except for physical extermination—which is certainly not assimilation—it is the only way in which large bodies of Jews seem to disappear.

Since no summary statistics on marriages will give us what we are interested in, investigators of this question have gone directly to raw data—the marriage licenses in city records—and worked from those.

Julius Drachsler studied 20,000 marriage licenses for each of the years 1908 to 1912 in Manhattan and the Bronx. In all, he examined 100,000 of the 170,000 marriage licenses issued in that period. C. E. Sillcox and G. M. Fisher (Catholics, Jews, and Protestants, Harper, 1934) give a good critical summary of his work, and even though it is likely that his estimates for Jews are too low, they do not believe he can be far off. It turns out that Jews have a lower rate of intermarriage than any other group except Negroes. The intermarriage rate for Jews was 1.17 per hundred of all Jews marrying; for Negroes 1.08; while for Italians the intermarriage rate was 6.76; for Poles 20; for Irishmen 22; and it continues to rise for Scandinavians, Germans, and Englishmen to figures in the sixties.

Dr. Drachsler also compared rates for the first generation (persons who had themselves immigrated) with rates for the second generation (their children) and here the picture becomes less sharp. The rate of intermarriage for immigrant Jews is .64; for their children, it is 4.51. The rise is greatest among those groups that had originally intermarried least. Thus, immigrants from Russia had an intermarriage rate of .36; their children have one ten times greater, 3.40. On the other hand, the intermarriage rate for immigrant German Jews, which stands at 3.70, was less than doubled in the second generation, 6.02.

These figures for the second generation, and particularly for the Jews of Central and Western Europe are high, but they are nowhere near the intermarriage rates that aroused the apprehension of Ruppin. After 1910, his statistics show (see The Jewish Fate and Future, London, Macmillan, 1940), Jewish intermarriage in Central Europe rarely went below a rate of 10 for 100; in Germany in 1928 it was 21; and in some cities (Hamburg, 1932; Copenhagen, 1900-1905) it rose to over 30.

The question now becomes what happens in the second and third and later generations of Jews in America? Does the rate of intermarriage rise, or is it checked? Dr. Drachsler had only a small number of cases of third-generation Jews; and they seemed to be intermarrying at a rate slightly less than the second generation. It would have been most valuable to have had a follow-up of Dr. Drachsler’s study; unfortunately, there was none.

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We do, however, have a study of intermarriage in New Haven that I believe is of very great significance and that does throw light on our question.2 Ruby Jo Reeves Kennedy (“Single or Triple Melting Pot? Intermarriage Trends in New Haven,” American Journal of Sociology, Volume 49, 1944) did not differentiate between generations. However, she tried to get the long-range historical trend by studying marriage records for 1870, 1900, 1930, and 1940—and unquestionably there were higher proportions of second- and third-generation Jews at the later dates. For each succeeding year we find, for each group, a rise in the proportion of those intermarrying. In 1940, 6 per cent of the Jews, 18 per cent of the Italians, 45 per cent of the British Americans, 47 per cent of the Poles, 55 per cent of the Irish, 73 per cent of the Germans, and 82 per cent of the Scandinavians intermarried: “The Jews are the most endogamous of all groups except Negroes.”

However, she also discovered a pattern that had not been mentioned before. There seemed to be certain limits beyond which ethnic intermarriage did not go, and this limit was defined by religion. Protestants tended to marry Protestants, and Catholics tended to many Catholics. And so while in the case of Protestants and Catholics a real ethnic melting pot was in operation, with the lines between groups of different national origin being erased, in the case of Jews, this was not so, for here religion and national origin coincided.

Dr. Kennedy has a most interesting series of tables showing intermarriage between religions, not nationalities. Here the steady breakdown of endogamy is not so marked: in 1940, we find, 78 per cent of all Protestants are still marrying Protestants (the same figure as in 1930), 84 per cent of all Catholics are marrying Catholics (a rise from 82 per cent in 1930), and 94 per cent of all Jews in New Haven are marrying Jews, as compared with 97 per cent in 1930. Only among Jews did the percentage of religious intermarriage rise from 1930 to 1940. Dr. Kennedy believes that what she calls the pattern of the “triple melting pot”—the tendency to marry within one’s religious group, if not within one’s ethnic group—is already set, and the walls between the three groups will probably not crumble further. One cannot know whether she is right: it would be most valuable to follow up this very interesting study for 1950, to see to what extent her prediction holds.

What can we conclude about intermarriage? Dr. Drachsler suggests an intermarriage rate for the second and third generation of Jews in this country of 4 or 5 per cent—this was before the First World War; Dr. Kennedy’s figures show for the entire Jewish community of New Haven in 1946 a figure of 6 per cent. Have we anything more definite to go on? It has been suggested by a number of demographers that much could be learned about American Jews from the Canadian census: there “religion” is requested, and since the Jewish community is of the same national origins as that in the United States, and lives in a similar social environment, we might assume that what is true for Canada is true for the United States—at any rate, for the smaller American Jewish communities. A number of other qualifications would have to be made, however, of which the most important is that the Canadian Jewish community probably represents conditions as they prevailed in the United States ten or twenty years ago.

At any rate, the Canadian official figures show, for the years from 1926 to 1936, an overall rate of intermarriage of about 2.6 per cent. The figures for Quebec, with its strong Roman Catholic environment, may be considered somewhat special, and Sillcox and Fisher give figures for the rest of Canada without Quebec: there it is 3.37 per cent (for 1926-1931). There is no historical trend to be discerned in these figures, which is quite remarkable, since all the figures we have for the assimilating Jewish communities of Central Europe show a steadily increasing rate of intermarriage with the passage of time, and indeed, this was true of the East European Jewish communities, too.

One might add other bits of evidence from here and there, none quite as good as that presented; the over-all conclusion seems to be that no one has as yet demonstrated a tendency toward Jewish intermarriage in America or Canada above 5 per cent.

_____________

 

It may be objected that the data are not sufficiently reliable or recent. Yet the finding of a general American pattern of the “triple melting pot” suggests that intermarriage has reached or will soon reach a natural limit. Indeed, the problem of the American Jewish community is not, as many people are becoming aware, a problem of assimilation, whether in the form of intermarriage, baptism, or a simple loss of identification with the community. All these trends operate, but they are not increasing in importance with the passage of time: we have reason to believe they have probably reached their limits, and may have been reversed.

Here we have a paradox. The Jewish community, which once maintained a high resistance against the outer world by means of a marked difference in religion and customs, has abandoned those differences. What more natural than that, with the containing pressure reduced, the content of the Jewish vessel should pour out? And in the 1920’s it certainly seemed that was happening. Yet something happened to restore the pressure: perhaps it was the hostility of the non-Jewish world. At any rate, it was restored, the community finds itself again within the old walls, but the world within the walls has changed drastically, and can hardly be distinguished, by the way it looks, from the world outside. And the rise of such slogans as the demand for “positive Judaism” and “Jewish content,” replacing the old simple fear of assimilation, indicates clearly enough that people have felt the difference. A social group, with clearly marked boundaries, exists, but the source of the energies that hold this group separate and of the ties that bind it together has become completely mysterious.

The answer to these questions will not be given by the general over-all type of study we have here examined, or by a study of the social characteristics of the group as seen in statistics. We would have to go into such questions as the differences between large and small communities, the history of the social and economic relations of Jews and non-Jews, the history of Jewish communities, the characteristics of Jewish organizations, of the Jewish family, of Jewish social psychology. And for this we would have to turn, in a subsequent article, to the products of what I have called an “intimate” sociology, the study of Jewish communities, social life, and Jewish psychology.

_____________

 


Footnotes

1 The carefree use of the term “race,” and the date when this study began, should be enough to reveal to the informed reader that very little that we might consider “psychological” will be found here. The chief psychological concept of the study is that of the “wholesome”: and the point of the undertaking is to show that children with high IQ’s are as “wholesome” as any others, and do not come to a bad end more frequently; which is satisfactorily demonstrated. Even when subjects turn out unwholesomely, the authors look eagerly for redeeming features: M122 “took to gambling, neglected his studies, and was disqualified. . . . He began forging checks to cover gambling debts . . . and was sentenced to prison. . . . He became an exemplary prisoner and was soon the editor of the institutional publication.”

2 Bessie Bloom Wessel’s study of Woonsocket (An Ethnic Survey of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, University of Chicago Press, 1931) does not give any information on the second and third generations—the Jewish settlement there is too young—but does corroborate Drachsler’s findings. The Jewish rate for the first generation is 1.8, compared with an Italian rate of 7.1, and an Irish of 21.8. Milton Barren’s People Who Intermarry (Syracuse, 1946) covers a small town in Connecticut, with too few cases to permit generalizations.

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