Explaining the High-Level of Educational Attainment of Jewish Girls

A new study led by Ilana Horwitz, an assistant professor in the department of Jewish studies at Tulane University in New Orleans who holds the Fields-Rayant Chair in Contemporary Jewish Life at the university, finds that girls raised by Jewish parents are 23 percentage points more likely to graduate from college than girls with a non-Jewish upbringing, even after accounting for their parents’ socioeconomic status. Also girls raised by Jewish parents are more likely than other girls to graduate from more selective colleges.

Dr. Horwitz and researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities followed 3,238 adolescents for 13 years to conclude that girls raised by at least one Jewish parent acquire a particular way of viewing the world that influences their education choices, career aspirations, and various other experiences.

“Girls raised by Jewish parents articulate a self-concept marked by ambitious career goals and an eagerness to have new experiences,” said Dr. Horwitz. “For these girls, elite higher education and graduate school are central to attaining self-concept congruence. In contrast, girls raised by non-Jewish parents tend to prioritize motherhood and have humbler employment aims. For them, graduating from college, regardless of its prestige, is sufficient for self-concept congruence.”

Dr. Horwitz argues that Jews value education because “it has worked for them throughout history, not because they are genetically or culturally predisposed to it. For centuries, the daily life of Jewish people, regardless of social class, occupation or age, was organized around reading and studying Torah. As a result, Jews became literate much earlier than other people. That focus on schooling continued through the ages, with education woven into the fabric of contemporary Jewish life.”

Dr. Horwitz is the author of the new book God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success (Oxford University Press, 2022).

Dr. Horwitz is a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, where she majored in business administration. She holds a master’s degree in international education development from Columbia University’s Teachers College and a Ph.D. in the sociology of education and Jewish studies from Stanford University.

The full study, “From Bat Mitzvah to the Bar: Religious Habitus, Self-Concept, and Women’s Educational Outcomes,” was publshed in the American Sociological Review. It may be accessed here.

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