Jewish identification in contemporary America: Gans's symbolic ethnicity and religiosity theory revisited

Uzi Rebhun*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The author attempts to further the current understanding of the role of group identification among white Americans by reassessing Herbert Gans's theory of symbolic ethnicity and religiosity. I focus on Jews, a small yet deeply integrated group in the social mainstream, using data from the 1970-1971 and 1990 National Jewish Population Surveys. A cohort follow-up over the 20-year period shows that intermittent and home-centered practices have sustained a fair amount of stability, but those requiring persistent religious behavior or participation declined significantly. Likewise, the importance attached to being Jewish has declined. Multivariate analysis reveals that when Jewish background and socio-demographic characteristics are held constant, the sense of group belonging is strongly and positively associated with religious behavior and affiliation; these relationships have strengthened between 1970 and 1990. Other factors, on the macro-level of the American scene, deter everyday behaviors while they maintain, and often increase, the levels of the intermittent ones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-366
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Compass
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004


  • Cohort follow-up
  • Jews
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Symbolic identification
  • United States

RAMBI Publications

  • Rambi Publications
  • Gans, Herbert
  • Jews -- United States -- History -- 1945-
  • Jews -- United States -- Population


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