Jewish Family Life
Carmel Ullman Chiswick
(UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO)
The Jewish community in the United States has experienced a remarkable economic transformation during the twentieth century, from a community of impoverished immigrants to one of suburban professionals. 1 This transformation may be thought of as following two overlapping phases. In the first half of the century, most American Jews were either immigrants or the children of immigrants, born in poverty or nearpoverty. Jewish men during this period focused on upward occupational mobility, acquiring high levels of secular education and moving into middle- and high-level occupations with correspondingly high wage rates. During the later decades of the century, the community's new socioeconomic position would be consolidated as second- and third-generation suburban Jews, both men and women, attained even higher levels of education and the community shifted from business to professional occupations. While the typical Jewish male at the beginning of the century may have been a tailor or a peddler, by mid-century he was a businessman, doctor, accountant, pharmacist or lawyer and by its end he would have been a professional (often salaried) in any one of a variety of fields.
Although lagging behind the experience of Jewish men by some decades, the typical adult Jewish woman by 1990 was also a well-educated labor force participant, usually with some post-college training. In contrast to her mother or grandmother, she was less likely to be an unpaid worker in a family business (as her husband was less likely to have his own business) and more likely to be managing her own firm or developing a career as a salaried employee. Labor force participation rates of married Jewish women were high: in 1990, about 75 percent of those with no children at home were working, as were 75 percent of the married women with school-age children and about half of those with very young (preschool) children. 2
This article considers some of the most important implications for the American Jewish family of these changes in its economic context. Nearly a century after the period of mass immigration, most American Jews are at least one or two generations removed from their immigrant forebears. They live and work among non-Jews in a secular world where they expect to be respected for their personal qualities and technical expertise without regard to their Jewishness. Earnings from their professional occu-