WALTHAM – A new study estimates there are 7.6 million Jews in the United States, which equates to 2.4 percent of the nation’s population.
The new estimates and an interactive map were produced by the American Jewish Population Project, an effort by researchers at the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, which is part of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham.
The findings are important, researchers said, given the wide disparity in estimates of the Jewish population in the United States. The AJPP’s U.S. estimate is larger than the Pew Research Center’s study of the Jewish population in 2013, which estimated it at 6.7 million. The 3 percent growth of the U.S. population since the Pew study could account for the difference.
The Brandeis researchers recently published their findings and launched a new interactive map that allows viewing the data by state, metro area, and county.
Information is available on the number of Jewish adults who identify their religion as Jewish, along with comparisons to the general population in terms of age, education, and race.
“The AJPP, supported by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, is a program of research designed to provide reliable data on the size and demographic characteristics of the U.S. Jewish population,” Leonard Saxe, the Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Social Policy at Brandeis University, said in a statement. “This information is essential for assessing the needs of the Jewish community and the impact of programs designed to serve American Jewry.”
The study estimates 28,700 Jews live in Essex County north of Boston, which makes up 3.7 percent of the county’s population. The research also says that 19,000 adults in Essex County identify their religion as Jewish, which is 3.1 percent of adults in the county.
The AJPP study estimates 284,200 Jews living in the region that stretches from the South Shore to Manchester, N.H., including Boston, Cambridge, Newton, and the North Shore. Of those, 172,700 identify their religion as Jewish.
This compares with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ study of the Greater Boston Jewish Community conducted by Steinhardt Institute researchers in 2015, which estimated 248,000 Jewish adults and children live in the Greater Boston area.
Middlesex County, which stretches north and west of Boston, has the largest Jewish population in the state, with an estimated 138,400 Jews, 8.8 percent of the county’s nearly 1.6 million population. Of those, 76,200 adults identified their religion as Jewish.
Norfolk County to the south has an estimated Jewish population of 70,400, about 10 percent of this county’s population. About 46,700 adults identified their religion as Jewish.
Suffolk County, which includes Boston, has an estimated Jewish population of 30,000 – 4 percent of the county’s population – with 19,900 adults who identified their religion as Jewish.
To the north, of Essex County’s estimated 28,700 Jews, 19,000 adults identified their religion as Jewish.
“The numbers on the North Shore don’t really surprise me,” Saxe said, though there may be some recent developments that make the North Shore more attractive to Jewish people, such as the development of Jewish resources and the ability for people to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and not have to commute into Boston.
The report points out that estimating the size of the nation’s Jewish population is difficult because with the separation of church and state, the Census doesn’t ask about religious affiliation.
One of the findings of the AJPP study is “the myth of the vanishing Jew is just a myth,” Saxe said.
“The Jewish population is expanding in most areas in the country,” he said, including in the Greater Boston region.
To derive its estimates, the new study did not rely on single surveys. Instead, the AJPP synthesized “data from hundreds of independent samples of U.S. adults – in the current study, nearly 1.4 million respondents – to produce estimates of the Jewish population in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.”
The project estimated that of the 7.6 million total, 4.9 million U.S. adults identify their religion as Jewish, while 1.2 million adults say they are Jews of no religion and about 1.6 million are Jewish children.
The survey also looked at other characteristics of Jewish adults and found that 57 percent have graduated college, compared to 29 percent for U.S. adults in general. The survey also found 80 percent of the Jewish population lives within the nation’s top 40 metropolitan areas. Other findings include 25 percent of Jewish adults are under age 34, while 11 percent are members of Gen Z (ages (ages 7 to 22) and 15 percent are millennials (ages 23 to 38).
The study found nearly half of the U.S. Jewish population lives in just three states: 21 percent in New York, 15 percent in California, and 10 percent in Florida. The greatest number of Jews live in the Northeast, at 40 percent, with 23 percent in the West, 25 percent in the South, and 12 percent in the Midwest. While a majority of the nation’s Jews live in the Northeast, that number is down from 68 percent in 1930 and 43 percent in 2013.
The survey found that most Jewish people live in five states: New York, California, Florida, New Jersey (8 percent) and Pennsylvania (5 percent). At 4 percent, Massachusetts ranks seventh on the list, just behind Illinois, with both states having an estimated 334,800 Jewish residents.
Following a longstanding trend, Jews also tend to live clustered in and around urban centers, with 55 percent of U.S. Jews living in the nation’s top seven metro areas.