New roles, new commitments? Jewish women’s involvement in the community’s organizational structure
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Since the early 1970s, Jewish women have participated in the dramatic changes characterizing American women in general. They marry later, bear fewer children, have high levels of education, and enter the labor force in increasing numbers. These developments have important significance for the organized Jewish community. The changing profile of Jewish women may be inimical to their joining organizations and engaging extensively in volunteer activities.
Data from the 1987 survey of Rhode Island Jews provide the basis for assessment of some of these relations. The findings suggest that age and strength of religious identification are most strongly and directly related to involvement in Jewish organizations. Number of children at home has little impact. More surprisingly, participation in the labor force, while having the expected negative effect on number of memberships in organizations, especially among full-time workers, has a positive effect for part-time workers on rates of membership and on voluntarism and no significant effect for full-time workers when these dimensions are considered.
The data also suggest that involvement in non-Jewish activities does not substitute for involvement in Jewish activities. The two seem to reinforce each other, with women who are active in one area also being active in the other. Despite this strong relation, Jewish women are also more involved in the Jewish community than they are in the non-Jewish one. Moreover, the effect of specific characteristics on levels and intensity of involvement varies for Jewish and non-Jewish activities.
These data suggest, therefore, that the changing sociodemographic characteristics of Jewish women do not of themselves imply lower involvement in the community at the associational and voluntary levels. What the findings do suggest, however, is that the types of activities that are available will need to change if women are to continue to be attracted to them. The relatively high levels of membership and voluntarism of younger women in non-Jewish activities suggest that women may increasingly turn to the non-Jewish sector as their contacts with non-Jews increase and if their needs are not met within the Jewish community. The strongest counter force suggested by the data assessed in this paper is a high level of identification with the Jewish community. Efforts to foster such identification, coupled with a sensitivity to the changing interests and goals of Jewish women, should help to ensure the continued viability of the Jewish community’s associational structure.
KeywordsLabor Force Jewish Community Religious Service Jewish Woman Contemporary JEWRY
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