Jews are less likely to change religious affiliation than Protestant Christians and Catholics, a new study claims.
While Jewish and Christian traditions are both reporting a decline in adherents, most Jews who leave the faith become unaffiliated rather than “switching” to another religious tradition, according to the study released last week by the American Jewish Committee. Moreover, many who leave Judaism as a religion continue to identify themselves as Jewish for ethnic and cultural reasons.
According to the study, 76 percent of Jews are “stable,” or currently professing the same religion that they were raised in. Meanwhile, 14.5 percent are “losses,” reporting a different religion now than the Jewish faith they grew up in. And 9 percent of Jews are “gains,” or have converted to Judaism from another faith.
For Protestants, there are high levels of switching between denominations, but as a whole Protestants are the most stable at 80.8 percent. But when denominational switching is taken into account, stability ranges from 39.3 percent to 59.8 percent.
The study broke Protestants down into four major denominational families – Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Baptists had the highest level of stability at 59.8 percent, and Presbyterians had the lowest rate among the four at 39.3 percent.
Among other denominations included in the study, the lowest retention rate (15.9 percent) was recorded for Unitarians, who do not hold the Trinity doctrine as a core belief and are traditionally denounced as heretics.
Catholics, meanwhile, had a slightly lower stability rate than Jews, with 73 percent still identifying with the Catholic faith that they were raised in.
The study, authored by Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, was a follow up to a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life which found that 44 percent of Americans currently identify with a different faith than the one they were raised in.
For the Pew report, 28 percent of the shift was among Protestant denominations.
“Jews are more religiously stable (76 percent) than Catholics are (73 percent) and notably more stable than major Protestant denominations (16 percent-60 percent),” the report’s author Tom Smith noted. “This stability is not surprising, since being Jewish is both a religion and an ethnicity."
Smith further observed that many American faiths have reported losses in members and the Jewish loss “is not particularly distinctive nor is it comparatively problematic.”
“Jewish losses are disproportionately to no religion. It is not primarily that Jews are converting to other religions in general or assimilating to the Protestant majority, but that they are ceasing to identify with a religion,” Smith commented. “This is part of a general societal pattern as the unaffiliated have been growing and most religions have been losing an appreciable share to no religion.”
The study makes several recommendations on how Jews can better retain adherents. Some of the suggestions include more social and educational religious opportunities for children, more outreach to non-Jewish spouses in interfaith marriages, and increase evangelism efforts, which traditional Jews frown upon.
Findings on religious switching were based on data from the General Social Surveys (GSSs) conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The GSSs are in-person surveys of adults in the United States and have been conducted 26 times from 1972 to 2006 with total interviews of 51,020 respondents.
Religious switching was measured by the questions on what religion respondents were raised in compared to what the person’s current religion is.