The Jewish Millennials Report: Details and Definitions

Before Barna even began the process of survey design for the new report Jewish Millennials: The Beliefs and Behaviors Shaping Young Jews in America, we had to ask another question first: “Who is considered a Jew?” Extensive research and academic debate has been devoted to parameters of the Jewish population. “Counting Jews is like holding Jell-O: It’s hard to get your hands around it,” professor Barry Kosmin writes. “There’s a tremendous debate among demographers over who is a Jew. One person’s Jew is another person’s gentile.”

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As Barna was commissioned to assess the religious and spiritual disposition of the Jewish Millennial—in all its various forms—we felt that the most “spiritually inclusive” way to do so would be to define our Jewish audience as those who consider themselves Jewish and have at least one Jewish parent, regardless of their spiritual or religious beliefs. This allows for Barna to focus on American Jews through a broad lens of faith and spiritual practice, an area in which our database is significantly invested.

Definition of Jewish Sample in Barna’s Study

  1. Considers themselves to be “Jewish” and
  2. Have at least one parent who is 100 percent Jewish, or both parents are no less than half Jewish

This means Jews who are Jews only by religion (as in, converts to Judaism who do not have a Jewish parent) are excluded from our sample for the purpose of the study. Additionally, those who do not consider themselves to be Jewish are likewise excluded from the study, as the hope is to understand people who do consider their Jewishness as a part of their identity. These exclusions are not intended to be an ultimate reflection on the Jewishness of these particular groups or their right to identify as Jewish, but rather to allow Barna to focus closely on the faith expressions and experiences of those who report Jewish parentage and claim Jewish heritage.

In producing this report, Barna first held two qualitative surveys among Jewish Millennials—one on the East coast and one on the West coast—to inform the development of quantitative questionnaires. Subsequently, Barna conducted a quantitative online survey among 1,503 Jewish adults, using the above Barna definition as the qualifier; 599 of those Jewish adults (18 years and older) were Millennials born in 1984 and after. The key implication to this widening of the Jewish population definition is the inclusion of a more diverse sense of Jewish identity, faith and spirituality—something explored extensively in the full report Jewish Millennials.

Barna recognizes that, in an effort to cast a wide spiritual net, the approach to this study is fundamentally different from that of other prominent reports on young Jews in America. (You can read more about how Barna’s study is strategically positioned within the broader landscape of research on Jewish Millennials, particularly Pew Research Center’s A Portrait of Jewish Americans, in the introduction of the completed report.) In seeing atheism as another form of “faith” as well as examining Jews who subscribe to religions other than Judaism, the researchers have observed a diverse and spiritually curious group of individuals who identify as Jews and were born to at least one Jewish parent. As a result, some of the findings are also unique—depending on the reader’s or researcher’s vantage point, either compellingly or irregularly—and it’s important not to examine them in a vacuum.

“The Barna study presents a portrait of American Jewish Millennials that looks, in some ways, rather unlike any other portrait of that population that I am used to seeing,” Ari Kelman, Jim Joseph Chair of Education and Jewish Studies at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, writes at the beginning of Barna’s Jewish Millennials report. “I am certain that the flexibility of the definition of Jewishness has led, in part, to some of the strangeness that I felt while reading the report. But that strangeness is productive, as it forced me to reckon with the question of who counts as an American Jew—a question that is increasingly difficult to answer with any definitive authority. The Millennials might be way ahead on this one, and the social scientists should listen as closely as possible, if only to reveal their own blind spots with respect to emergent patterns of Jewish life.”

Examine Jewish Millennial identity in the full report

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