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Mixed Marriage, Intermarriage

The terms intermarriage and mixed marriage are used interchangeably. Intermarriage in the present context is defined as a marriage where one partner professes a religion different from that of his spouse. Marriages in which a partner has converted to the faith of the other are not considered intermarriages. Therefore, marriages between *converts to Judaism and born Jews are not treated here.

Problems of Measurement

FORMATION DATA VERSUS STATUS DATA

Statistical data on the frequency of religious intermarriage are obtained from marriage licenses on which groom and bride state their religions, and from questionnaires connected with censuses or community surveys. Questionnaires reveal the religious composition of married couples and the status of heterogamy within a population. It is of the utmost importance to distinguish between intermarriage formation and heterogamy status data.

INDIVIDUAL RATES VERSUS COUPLE RATES

A number of methodological problems complicate the computation of intermarriage rates. Some researchers base their rates upon the number of individuals who marry out. However, since the couple is the basic unit in the marriage relationship and since the couple is expected to be homogamous, intermarriage rates are most meaningfully computed by determining the ratio of intermarried couples to the total number of couples in which one or both partners are Jewish.

SURVEYS OF THE ORGANIZED JEWISH COMMUNITY VERSUS COMPREHENSIVE SURVEYS

Surveys which produce intermarriage data should indicate whether the survey was limited to the organized Jewish community or encompassed the total population of a locality. As might be expected, the former type yields a significantly lower rate of intermarriage than the latter. Surveys of the former type sponsored by local Jewish organizations in the United States between 1930 and 1970 yielded an intermarriage status rate of about 6%. By contrast the Greater Washington survey which sampled the total population yielded a rate of 13.2%, more than double that of the organized Jewish community.

The Extent of Jewish Intermarriage

MAGNITUDE

In contrast to the period between World Wars I and II there are no data for Eastern and Southeastern Europe on intermarriage rates. Considerable variations exist from country to country and even within one country, namely the United States. In 1970 status rates ranged from a high of 26% for Switzerland and the Netherlands to a low of 7.2% for the United States; formation rates from a high of 80.6% in West Germany to a low of 16.8% in Canada. (See Table: World Jewish Population Distribution, by Frequency of Current Out-Marriages around 1930 and 2000.)

THE MEANING OF INTERMARRIAGE RATES: THE PROBLEM OF JEWISH SURVIVAL

There is a widespread belief that a high rate of Jewish intermarriage in a given locality leads to the disappearance of the Jewish community there. "How high is high?" The answer will be found in a comparison of what the intermarriage rate might be if random selection of partners would occur (expected random rate) with the actual (observed) intermarriage rate. A 1957 sample survey in the United States revealed that, compared to Catholics and Protestants, Jews are least likely to intermarry.

Social Factors Related to Intermarriage

ROMANTIC LOVE VERSUS GROUP COHESION

In the Western world the selection of marital partners is governed by two considerations. One is the romantic love ideal, which tends to override considerations of race, creed, cultural origin, or social class. The other consideration is group survival, the pressure to marry a member of one's own race, religion, or cultural group.

World Jewish Population Distribution, by Frequency of Current Out-Marriages around 1930 and 2000 World Jewish Population Distribution, by Frequency of Current Out-Marriages around 1930 and 2000

Rate of Jews now marrying non-Jewsa 1930 2000
Countryb Jewish pop. in thousands % Countryb Jewish pop. in thousands %
a Not Jewish at time of marriage. Out-marriage figures are countrywide or regional estimates. This table ignores variation in out-marriage frequencies within countries.
b Data quality rated as follows: 1 Recent and reliable data; 2 Partial or less recent data of sufficient quality; 3 Rather outdated or incomplete data; 4 Conjectural.
Total 16,600 100.0 Total 12,950 100.0
0–0.9% Poland1, Lithuania1, Greece2, Palestine2, Iran4, Yemen4, Ethiopia4 4,130 24.9 West Bank-Gaza (Yesh"a)1 215 1.7
1–4.9% Latvia1, Canada1, United States2, Latin America4, United Kingdom4, Spain-Portugal4, Other Asia4, Maghreb2, Egypt1, Libya4, Southern Africa4 6,700 40.4 Israel1, Yemen4 4,879 37.7
5–14.9% Switzerland1, France2, Austria1, Luxembourg1, Hungary1, Romania2, Czechoslovakia1, USSR1, Estonia1, Belgium4, Bulgaria4, Yugoslavia4 5,340 32.1 Mexico1, Gibraltar4, China4, Iran4, Syria4, North Africa4 60 0.4
15–24.9% Italy1, Germany1, Netherlands1 385 2.3 Bahamas4, Costa Rica4, Guatemala2, Venezuela1, India3, Japan4, Singapore4, South Africa3 101 0.8
25–34.9% Australia2, New Zealand4, Scandinavia3 45 0.3 Canada1, Chile2, Latin America not otherwise stated4, Turkey2, Africa not else stated4, Australia1, New Zealand3 535 4.1
35–44.9% Argentina3, Brazil2, Uruguay2, France1, United Kingdom1, Western Europe not otherwise stated3 1,176 9.1
45–54.9% United States1, Italy2, Netherlands1, Switzerland1, FSU in Asia3 5,400 41.7
55–74.9% Austria1, Germany1, Eastern Europe (besides FSU)3 194 1.5
75% + FSU in Europe2, Cuba3 390
3.0
Average rate World 5.1% World 30.8%
Diaspora 5.2% Diaspora 48.3%

The effectiveness of this pressure is directly related to the value that adults place upon the survival of their group. Elopements can be considered an extreme case of romantic love, producing a maximum rate of intermarriage, while arranged marriages can be viewed as a most conscious effort to foster group survival generating a minimum of such marriages.

Size of the Jewish Community

DENSITY AND CONCENTRATION

It has been repeatedly observed that the rate of intermarriage is the result of density, the proportion that a subgroup constitutes of the total population in a given locality. However, density becomes relevant only when the will for group survival has been weakened or abandoned. Once group cohesion is weakened, however, the factor of density operates in the expected manner: the smaller the proportion that Jews constitute of the total population in a given locality, the larger the intermarriage rate becomes. This relationship has been observed in Canada, the United States, and Australia. For example, in the United States the intermarriage formation rate in the state of Indiana between 1960 and 1963 was 38.6% for the five large Jewish settlements and 63.5% for those counties where there was only a scattering of Jewish families. Jews are well aware of the fact that dispersal of Jewish families over a rural or urban area increases the likelihood of intermarriage. Therefore, in urban areas they have been eager to concentrate their residence in specific neighborhoods and to locate their institutions within them.

AGE OF JEWISH SETTLEMENT AND DEMOCRATIC SOCIAL PROCESSES

Jews more than any other religio-ethnic group have been involved in migrations from one country to another. As immigrants they have encountered economic, cultural, and social barriers. However, in democratic societies where equalizing processes between immigrants and older settlers and between different racial, ethnic, and religious groups are at least not discouraged and at best consciously fostered, these barriers will be lowered with increasing length of settlement. In time, then, Jews will become "acculturated," i.e., less distinguishable from older settlers and other immigrant groups.

The most significant break in cultural continuity, social distance, and personal identity occurs with the birth of each new generation. Therefore, intermarriage is likely to increase with increased length of Jewish settlement, as measured by generations, and in the absence of continued Jewish immigration. The Greater Washington survey found that intermarried families increased from 1.4% among the foreign born, the first generation, to 10.2% among the native born of foreign parentage, the second generation, to 17.9% among the native born of native parentage, the third generation. The readiness of Jewish individuals to intermarry is met by a corresponding frame of mind on the part of non-Jews, who, as members of the upper classes, are no longer conscious of previous status differentials or who, as members of other immigrant groups, have also been "acculturated." The fact that a new wave of immigrants can effectively lower earlier upward trends of inter-marriage can best be demonstrated by Australia and to a lesser extent by Canada. In Australia, mainly because of the immigration of refugees from Nazi Europe, the Jewish population nearly doubled between 1933 and 1954. At the same time the percentage of intermarried families dropped drastically from a high of 29% for Jewish husbands and 16% for Jewish wives in 1921 to a low of 12% for Jewish husbands and 6% for Jewish wives in 1961.

OCCUPATION AND EMPLOYMENT STATUS

Occupation and employment status (independent owner versus employee) are factors significantly related to intermarriage. As long as occupational choice was limited by discriminatory practices, occupational homogeneity discouraged intermarriage. With virtually unlimited freedom of occupational choice in the United States, individuals who break away from traditional occupations are likely to have a higher intermarriage rate. The growth of corporate capitalism is also likely to generate a higher rate of intermarriage. Since large corporations demand from their executives considerable geographic and social mobility, local ties to the organized Jewish communities become attenuated. Surveys in the mid-50s revealed that roughly 80% of the heads of Jewish households in the United States were engaged in white-collar occupations while only 20% did blue-collar work. Within the white-collar group, managers, proprietors, and officials constituted the largest concentration, with 36% of all heads of Jewish households. It comes as no surprise, then, that the intermarriage formation rate for the latter group amounted to only 10% (for first marriages) in the state of Iowa. For the total white-collar group the rate was 27.2% and for blue-collar workers 46.8%. Thus the expectation that Jews who adhere to the traditional occupational pattern are less likely to intermarry was borne out.

SECULAR EDUCATION

Secular education in the Western world has two major functions. One is to ensure the continuity of cultural tradition and values, the acquisition of basic skills, and of occupational training. The other is to provide for cultural change, the production of new ideas, and technical innovation. Students who are oriented to or exposed to the first type of schooling should be less inclined to intermarry than students enrolled in the second type. The Greater Washington survey supports the expectation for the native-born of native parentage. The intermarriage rate of those who had enrolled in the first type was nearly one-third lower than of those who had attended the second type.

RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

There is a widespread belief that Jewish education, including a bar mitzvah ceremony, helps to keep young men from marrying outside the Jewish faith. The Greater Washington survey showed that this belief is well founded as far as the native-born of native parentage (the third and subsequent generation) is concerned. Religious education cut the intermarriage status rate in half. It was 16.4% for those husbands who had been exposed to religious school as compared to 30.2% who had not had such instruction. Since the ethnic bond – expressed in secular activities and in a common language – has been virtually dissolved in the third generation, exposure to religious instruction, which usually includes some learning of Jewish history and some identification with Israel, serves as a check to intermarriage.

SEX DISTRIBUTION AND INTERMARRIAGE

In the beginning of the last quarter of the 20th century Jewish men were more likely to intermarry than Jewish women. One reason for this differential was that men take the initiative in proposing marriage. This was especially significant in localities where Jewish families are sparsely settled. Jewish parents allowed their sons more freedom in dating across religious lines. However, the following years witnessed an increase in the proportion of Jewish women who intermarry, and it is likely that the sex differential will diminish in the future. The proportion of Jewish men who intermarry varied from country to country and within a country from place to place. In Canada only 10.2% of all bridegrooms intermarried between 1955 and 1960, as compared with 26.7% in Iowa between 1953 and 1959. In the Netherlands, the percentage of such bridegrooms rose from 36.4% in 1946 to 44% in 1958. In Indiana, only about half as many Jewish bridegrooms intermarried in the five relatively large Jewish communities of the state (30% versus 55.8%). Jewish brides exhibit similar variations in their propensity to intermarry.

PREVIOUS MARITAL STATUS

Data available for the United States and the Netherlands demonstrate that the previous marital status of a person affects his decision to intermarry. Previously widowed persons, upon remarriage, have a lower intermarriage rate than persons never before married. By contrast, persons who were previously divorced have a considerably higher intermarriage rate than the never married. For example, in Indiana one group of previously divorced couples had an intermarriage formation rate of 64.9% as compared with 33.2% for the never married before and 20% for the previously widowed.

The Prevention of Intermarriage

In societies where democracy and individualism are dominant values, intermarriage is bound to occur. Empirical observations have revealed that Jewish communities are trying to keep the frequency low with the help of a "survival" formula consisting of voluntary segregation, residence in a high-status area, a modicum of Jewish education, and Jewish group consciousness in the form of Zionism which is defined as supporting the State of Israel.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

E. Mayer, Jewish-Gentile Courtships (1961); W.J. Cahnman (ed.), Intermarriage and Jewish Life (1963); JJSO, 3 (1961), 195–242; 4 (1962), 47–71; W.M. Lipman, ibid., 8 (1966), 213–39; JSQS, index S.V. Intermarriage; E. Rosenthal, in: AJYB, 64 (1963), 3–53; idem, in: Journal of Marriage and the Family, 32, no. 3 (1970), 435–40; M. Sklare, in: Commentary, 37 (April 1964), 46–52; 49 (1970), 51–58; M. Davis, Beit Yisrael ba-Amerikah (1970), 276–342 (incl. bibl.); I. Ellman, in: Dispersion and Unity, 9 (1969), 111–42; N. Mirsky, in: Midstream, 16 (1970), 40–46; M. Altschuler, in: Beḥinot, 1 (1970), 56–58; A. Schwartz, in: AJYB, 71 (1970), 101–22. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S.B. Fishman, Double or Nothing: Jewish Families and Mixed Marriage (2004). LEGAL ASPECTS: ET, 5 (1953), 286–93, 295–300; B. Shereshevsky, Dinei Mishpaḥah (19672), 80–87, 349–51; M. Elon, Ḥakikah Datit (1968), 77–79, 85–89. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:1496; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 1: 1782. 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