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The economics of Jewish continuity

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A model distinguishing between Jews and non-Jews is developed to analyze the benefits and costs of Jewish assimilation and hence the economic incentives affecting Jewish continuity. Judaism and Jewish communal life are viewed as a single self-produced good, for which production efficiency can be enhanced by investing in Jewish-specific human capital. Non-Jews produce an analogous good with the aid of human capital specific to their own group. Groups are formally distinguished from each other by the specificity of their human capital, the level of group-specific investment, and the degree of complementarity between group-specific and general human capital. The group production functions also permit interactions between individuals to generate bandwagon and club effects.

It is argued that the high human capital intensity of Judaismper se (esp.Torah and related study) raises rates of return to other forms of human capital and thus generates secular rewards. Whether or not this leads to assimilation depends on the characteristics of the general society and of the non-Jewish group. It is also argued that Judaism’s structure of commandments and proscriptions (especiallyShabbat andkashrut) effectively tax religious heterogeneity within the family, supporting group survival with strong incentives in the marriage market. Some historical evidence is introduced, and it is argued that specifically Jewish human capital is typically Ihe dominant factor in Jewish continuity.

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Author information

Correspondence to Carmel U. Chiswick.

Additional information

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at theInternational Conference on Economics of Judaism and Jewish Observance, December 13–15, 1998 (co-sponsored by Bar-Ilan University and the University of Illinois at Chicago) and at the 1999 meetings of the Association for Jewish Studies and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. The author is grateful for helpful comments from several participants, especially Yehuda Don, Tikva Lecker, Linda Waite and Barry R. Chiswick, as well as Rela Mintz Geffen. Any remaining inadequacies are the responsibility of the author alone.

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Chiswick, C.U. The economics of Jewish continuity. Cont Jewry 20, 30–56 (1999).

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  • Human Capital
  • Jewish Community
  • Jewish Identity
  • General Society
  • Contemporary JEWRY