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Taking Stock of Capital among North American Jews

Tue, December 18, 2:30 to 4:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Waterfront 2 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session

Abstract

Capital, whether it be economic, social, cultural, or human capital, plays a key role in shaping the social position of different groups. In this panel, four scholars from different disciplines come together in this mixed-methods panel to examine how different forms of capital have shaped the social, economic, and religious lives of North American Jews. Barry Chiswick, an economist, is curious why Jews have been exceptionally successful in the United States economy over the past three centuries. He examines hypotheses such as the "diaspora" hypothesis, being a "people of the book," a trade-off of "child quantity" for "child quality," the economic freedom inherent in the largely laissez faire economy, and an emphasis on decision making skills that advantaged Jews. Ilana Horwitz is also motivated by the exceptionally high rate of educational attainment among American Jews, compared with other religious groups. Horwitz takes a sociological approach to examine whether Jewish adolescents conceive of their academic goals differently than non-Jewish adolescents of comparable socioeconomic status. She examines interview and survey data and finds that Jewish adolescents are highly oriented towards college from early on in a way that is not evident among other adolescents. She finds that social and cultural capital varies by religious groups and facilitates educational attainment. Alex Pomson extends the idea of social and cultural capital by examining sixteen families that participated in a 10-year ethnographic study. Pomson finds families with higher Jewish social capital and lower Jewish cultural capital at the start of the study were among those whose Jewish lives intensified most over the following decade. He offers evidence that Jewish capital is not always something that an individual or family consistently accumulates or that remains inert over time. Sociologist Paul Burstein, who has also published on the topic of Jewish educational and economic success, will respond to the papers. He will comment on the relationship between the papers and potentially identify a new direction for future research. This panel pushes scholars to consider how different forms of capital illuminate American Jews’ position in North America.

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