Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jews in the U.S. Military

Almost unnoticed in recent news articles about atheists and non-believers pressing for representation in the Chaplain Corps is a statement that there are only about 9,500 Jews in the American military.  That led a friend of mine to ask why Jews were “staying away [from the military] in droves?”

Good question.

First, Jews make up between 1.7% (practicing Jews) and 2.2% (culturally Jews) of the US population.  If Jews were similarly represented in the active US military, we would expect somewhere on the order of 25,000 Jews to be in the military.  Obviously, 9,400 is an under-representation.  Admiral Harold Robinson, a Reform rabbi and director of the Jewish Welfare Board’s Jewish Chaplains Council, stated in 2009 that there were between 10,000 and 14,000 Jews in the military, less severe than the 9,400 number, but still under-represented.  David and Mady Segal (University of Maryland) reported in 2001 that Jews were less than .5 percent of the military (less than 7,500).

Second, we have found that people who openly identify with the Democratic Party are less likely to enlist in the military than those who openly identify as Republicans.  Since Jews are more likely to identify with the Democratic Party  than with the Republican, I would expect the Jewish population to be under-represented.

Third, a quarter of the American Jewish population lives in the Northeast, a part of the country that has historically produced the fewest recruits for the military.  That, combined with the Party ID effect, may explain a substantial portion of the under-representation.

Fourth, the Jewish population is more likely to be in the upper quintile of SES than the general population.  The upper quintile is significantly less likely to produce recruits than the lower SES quintiles.
So, it does not surprise me that Jews are under-represented in the military, although I admit to being surprised at the extent.  There is no evidence that Jews as a group are anti-military, so I suspect other social issues must be in operation.

I would be interested in hearing what others are thinking or writing about this.