The 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey found 5.2 million Jews live in the United States, compared to 5.5 million a decade ago. Their median age rose from 37 to 41 in the same period, fueling concern that the faith is not being passed down to a younger generation.
The study sponsored by United Jewish Communities, an international social service federation based in New York, is being released in two stages, with figures on the rate of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews to be presented sometime next month.
Among the most complex issues the researchers faced was defining who is a Jew for the purposes of the study. The survey included people who identified themselves as Jewish, were raised Jewish, or had a Jewish parent and did not convert to another religion. Using a broader definition that includes anyone with a Jewish background would increase the total population figure to 6.9 million, the survey's authors said.
Researchers found Jews are having fewer children than needed to keep the population stable. Half of Jewish women age 30-34 have no children, compared to 27 percent of all American women. Nearly half of American Jews are age 45 or older.
The report is among the most influential studies of U.S. Jews.
Its 1990 finding that 52 percent of American Jews marry outside the faith has transformed Jewish community work in this country, redirecting tens of millions of dollars and other resources to programs that build Jewish identity, including religious day schools and trips to Israel.
The report also intensified a debate that continues today, over whether the best way to preserve Judaism in America is to reach out to Jews on the fringes of religious life or strengthen links with those already active.
"I don't think you can underestimate the cultural impact of the 1990 study," said Steven Bayme, national director for Jewish communal life at the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy and social service group. "It was a wake-up call to Jewish leaders telling them that their most critical challenge was encouraging Jews to lead a Jewish life."
According to the 2000 study, Jews remain concentrated in the Northeast, with 43 percent living in the region. The Midwest has the smallest share, 13 percent, while the South and West have 22 percent each.
The survey also found that more than half of Jews have earned a bachelor's degree, compared with 28 percent of non-Jews, and 24 percent of Jews have earned a graduate degree. The median household income for Jews is about $50,000, compared with $42,000 for all U.S. households.
About 4,500 Jews were interviewed between August 2000 and August 2001 as part of the research.