The top religion story of 2012 was the “rise of the ‘Nones’” — the one in five adults in the U.S. eschewing any religious label. That trend is now evidenced across the American religious spectrum, including in Jewish communities. About 22 percent of Jews now describe themselves as having no religion, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews.
“Fully a fifth today of Jews in the United States are people who say they have no religion. They’re atheists, agnostics, or, the largest single subgroup, nothing in particular,” said Alan Cooperman, co-author of the study.
The trend of disaffiliation mimics that of other backgrounds, particularly by age. For example, 93 percent of Greatest Generation Jews (those born between 1914 and 1947) identified as being Jewish by religion, while only 68 percent of Millennial Jews (those born after 1980) say the same.
“This is internal evidence in the survey that the percentage here is growing,” Cooperman said, adding that external evidence in other surveys backs up that trend.
Overall, however, Jews tend to be less religious than the general public — only 26 percent say religion is very important in their lives compared to 56 percent of all Americans. And 60 percent of Jews say being Jewish is mainly a matter of culture or ancestry — as opposed to 15 percent who say it is a matter of religion.
Further, the survey shows a general decline over the years in the percentage of all Americans that identify as religiously Jewish. According to Cooperman, the last time the U.S. Census Bureau asked about religion (1957), 3.2 percent of American adults identified as Jewish by religion. Today, that number has been roughly cut in half to around 1.8 percent.
Sandi Villarreal is Web Editor & Director of Online Media for Sojourners.