The Power of Controls

In the sciences all experiments require controls as well as subjects. Controls allow scientists to see if the expected results from an altered environment are any different than what would occur in an unaltered environment.

Typically, research on intermarriage in the Jewish community has looked at the effect of intermarriage on Jewish behavior as a binary proposition. If you’re intermarried, you act this way. If you’re inmarried, you act another way. But in recent years, more researchers have used controls in their research, controlling for variables such as level of Jewish education as a child and size of one’s personal Jewish network. Revealingly, when you control for level of Jewish “capital” when comparing the inmarried and the intermarried, gaps in Jewish behavior and participation shrink dramatically.

The latest study to add to this body of research comes from Leonard Saxe, Fern Chertok and Benjamin Phillips of the Cohen Center for Jewish Studies and Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. Titled “It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah: Jewish Identity and Intermarriage,” the study controls for factors such as the Jewish partner’s pre-existing Jewish education and home religious practice.

As Sue Fishkoff of JTA reports, the study is muddying the waters of the intermarriage debate. Meanwhile, however, Steven Cohen, author of several of his own studies on or related to intermarriage, disagrees with the study’s conclusions, arguing that intermarriage is a deterministic factor in decreased Jewish involvement independent of other factors.

Further complicating the debate is another study soon to be released by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston which shows that the children of intermarried families being raised Jewish behave remarkably similarly to the children of non-Orthodox inmarried families.

When I get my hand on the actual studies, I will have more to add to the conversation.

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2 thoughts on “The Power of Controls

  1. Its interesting that the pro-intermarriage study was done at Brandeis whose Gentile enrollment is constantly increasing and if current trends continue will have a majority Gentile enrollment.

  2. ‘children of (Boston) intermarried families being raised Jewish behave remarkably similarly to the children of non-Orthodox inmarried families’

    All children behave remarkably similarly, including Orthodox children.

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