Gender Equality and American Jews

by Moshe Hartman and Harriet Hartman
State University of New York Press, $24.95, paper

When the Council of Jewish Federations released its National Jewish Population Survey in 1990, the number seized upon by the press and the pulpit was the high percentage of Jews who marry non-Jews. Now social scientists have had a chance to analyze other aspects of the data from the NJPS, and we’re being treated to some subtler findings, including statistics on how the lives of Jewish women and Jewish men compare in education, occupational achievement and Jewish involvement. The Hartmans tell us, in prose and tables not intended for popular consumption, that being Jewish does not directly limit women’s equality in marriage; it’s just that “the more Jewishly involved is the couple, the more they will be responsive to family obligations and curtail the wife’s labor force participation while the children are young.” This may result in her having a less rewarding career than he has.

Still, Jewish women appear to end up in more egalitarian partnerships—at least when the demographers measure certain externals that can be quantified, such as number of years of education— than their non-Jewish peers. We have here the bar graphs and multiple regression analyses to announce the differences between Jewish women and men in education (not much), occupational achievement (Jewish men have higher-prestige jobs and higher incomes than Jewish women because they don’t take time out to raise children) and levels of secular involvement.

In order to have a more nearly equal pattern of what the Hartmans term “secular achievement” you’d better time your children so as to engender “less role conflict between the family and [women’s] roles in the economy.” No surprises there. But the authors say they themselves were surprised to find no evidence, when they examined Jewish and secular involvements of women and men, that “Jewishness encouraged gender inequality between spouses. . . . [O]n the contrary, some of the strongest evidence of gender equality within couples was found among the Orthodox.”

Because this work presents the data without the nuances and textures of women’s life experiences, a statement that “although Jewish women’s achievements do not equal Jewish men’s achievements, they come closer to gender equality in terms of labor force activity and occupational achievement than men and women in the wider American population” doesn’t tell us as much as we’d like to know. We can be grateful, however, for the policy recommendation in the concluding chapter: “[T]aking a cue from the strong leadership roles played by Jewish women in the movement toward secular equality, Jewish formal organizations should find ways to attract women not only as auxiliary members alongside overwhelmingly male leadership but as leaders and managers of strong communal organizations.” Let’s hope that those who sit on nominating committees in Jewish organizations, and those responsible for hiring and promoting women in Jewish communal jobs, read this far in the book.