Intermarriage in Less Religious Countries

It’s widely known that the United States is the most religious of the major industrialized countries. Weekly church attendance may be as high as 40% and the great majority of people believe in God. Even the most liberal of politicians feel obligated to affirm their faith on the campaign trail.

I’m not quite sure what the connection between intermarriage and our high level of religiosity is, but it’s interesting to notice the contrasts between the U.S. and other industrialized countries. Great Britain and Canada have significantly lower levels of church attendance and yet in both, the Jewish community is much more cohesive and insular–leading to much lower rates of intermarriage than in the U.S.

Diane Flacks, author of Bear With Me, writes in the (Toronto) Globe and Mail about raising children in her intermarriage. She’s Jewish, her partner is not. “Is there a more polarizing issue than the place of religion in parenting?” she asks. I would bet no American writer would ask that question. In the U.S., it’s a given that religion will take a significant role in parenting.

As she goes on to discuss how she and her partner navigate between her Judaism and her partner’s Christianity, she comes to a somewhat conflicting conclusion. She says letting her children “choose” their religion “doesn’t sit well with me.” She says, “when they’re young–when they’re looking to us for security–I want to give them something to feel proud of, to feel clear about.” And what is that something? “Love,” she says. Nothing wrong with that, but it seems a rather vague cop-out when you suggest that parents should dictate a religion for their children. I wonder if it has something to do with a particularly Canadian discomfort with openly declaring your loyalty to one faith.

Meanwhile, the European Jewish Press has a a story on a recent study on Jews in Britain with data taken from the 2001 Census. While intermarriage is quite low in Britain, there are suggestions that it may be inching up soon:

Although the Census did not report an intermarriage rate, the analysis did reveal that 72% of married or cohabiting Jews had a Jewish partner; 19% had a non-Jewish partner.

However, for those who were cohabiting, 68% of all Jewish individuals had a partner who was either not Jewish or had no religion. (Those cohabiting were a tenth of those who were married.)

David Graham, one of the authors and research consultant to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, commented: “Overall, intermarriage, more accurately Jew-to-non-Jew partnerships, is still relatively uncommon. But certain groups, especially cohabitees, show clear signs that strongly suggest change is on the way.”

This may be a function of another piece of information that comes from the report. According to the Census, Jews are more geographically spread-out in Britain than previously thought. Perhaps, as in America, geographical dilution of the community is a cause of higher rates of interfaith relationships. If there are fewer Jews around to potentially partner with, then it’s more likely you’ll fall in love with somebody who’s not Jewish.

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