Success in America

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Income of American Jewish Men

           Income and earnings are in part determined by the demands of the reference group to which anyone may belong. Because Jewish Americans prize education and upward mobility to a major extent, it is in no manner surprising that the income of Jewish men exceeds average American income by a considerable amount.

            The explanation for this phenomenon lies in the emphasis Judaism gives to this world rather than “the next world.” This means that American non-Jews, who are mainly Christians, are more concerned with salvation in the olam habo, the world to come, than is true of Jews, and are therefore less interested in upward mobility than is true of Jews.

           In addition, American Jews, despite their evident success, are largely living a marginal life. Because Jews are a small minority of only 1.8% of the American population, the Jewish reference group, the people to whom Jews refer their beliefs, attitudes and conduct, differs somewhat from that of the majority, even as Jews have entered into all American occupations and are conducting their lives in accordance with “Anglo conformity.” Marginal people everywhere are more likely to strive for recognizable success as a compensation for real and perceived disadvantages. That which is believed to be real is indeed real in its consequences.

        Conservative Jews have higher earnings than reform or orthodox Jews and those who have attended a Jewish day school have significantly higher earnings than other Jewish men. Schooling, labor market experience and being currently married are all positively associated with high earnings. These traits are also associated with education, so that earnings are increased by about 6% per year of Jewish education.

       Because physicians earn more than the average income in the United States, it is indicative of Jewish success that 14% of American physicians are Jewish, exceeding our proportion to the American population seven fold or more. Physicians earn between $164,000 and $900,000 a year depending on their specialty. Likewise, lawyers earn between $125,000 and $192,000 a year depending on their location, with some earning much more and some less. Law is a favorite profession among American Jews.

        Evidently, most Jews are neither lawyers nor physicians. Yet, Jewish business success is also in evidence in this country, as judged by Jewish billionaires. 48% of American billionaires are Jewish. It is therefore not unreasonable to project that nearly half of the most successful American business men and women are Jewish by any definition of “Jewish.”

         While only 19% of Americans earn $100,000 a year or more, this is true of 46% of American Jews. Twenty-five percent of American Jews hold a graduate degree. Only 6% of the American people hold a graduate degree. Forty percent of Americans are employed as managers or professionals. Sixty-one percent of American Jews are managers or professionals, including Jewish professors, who account for about ten percent of American faculties, or more than five times their proportion of the American population.

        Jewish success is also visible when we consider elected officials. Ten percent of the U.S. Senate is Jewish and one third of the Supreme Court Justices are Jewish. Evidently the American public is willing to elect Jews even in states such as Wisconsin, which has a small Jewish population.

        All this success attracts some malicious bigots. Yet, it is a matter of historical record that in eastern Europe, where Jews were exceedingly poor, the hate mongers targeted the poor Jews and murdered them. Evidently hatred is always the fault of the hater and never the attribute of his victims.

        May our success continue and let us be proud of each other for all we have achieved.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The German Jews in America (2014).

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