The identikit Jewish household doesn’t exist

Tradition prizes coupledom, but lifelong singletons are just as much a part of the community

August 11, 2022 14:43

I’m home alone this week. The children are all at summer camp, and my wife has grabbed the opportunity to travel to the US to visit her parents.

So for more or less the first time in about 20 years, I’m completely on my own. That is apart from the dog, who frankly has never looked so bereft. Even though I’m her only possible source of food, treats and walks at the moment, she somehow seems to know that she was never my idea.

I’d been quite looking forward to the peace and tranquillity, but now it’s here, the house seems eerily quiet, save the occasional sorry whimper from my canine housemate.

It takes me back to my single days, when the idea of living alone often felt rather better than the reality. And as if to stress the point, Judaism cruelly sprang Tu b’Av on me on Thursday night/Friday — the Jewish day of love.

So partly to mark the occasion, and partly (ok — mainly) to avoid taking the dog out for another walk (she’s looking at me expectantly as I write this), I thought I should review some of the stats on Jewish love. Not that demographic data can really delve into our deepest emotions, but they can provide us with some indicators.

For example, how many of us live alone? How many of us live with our spouse or partner? How likely are we to be coupled up? And how common is the stereotypical nuclear family of two parents living with their children?

It turns out that my temporary state of singledom is remarkably common. A third of all Jewish households in Britain contain one person living alone, higher than the national average. This is partly due to the older than average profile of the Jewish population — half of these single-person Jewish households contain an elderly person living alone, many of whom are widowed.

Yet the other half contains singles aged under 65, who may or may not have been married previously, but either way and for whatever reason, are currently on their own.

Moreover, beyond these, about five per cent of all Jewish households contain single parents, living with their children but without a partner.

So all in all, if you were to knock randomly on the front door of a Jewish household in the UK, there is about a two in five chance that you would find an adult there living without a partner. That seems like quite a kick in the teeth for Tu b’Av.

Yet with that said, about six in ten adult Jews are living in a couple, and the vast majority of these are married or in a civil partnership.

That’s a high proportion — indeed, Jewish adults in the UK are more likely to be living in a couple than adults in any other major ethnic or religious group in the country. Being coupled up seems to matter to many of us — perhaps because Judaism places such a strong emphasis on family, perhaps because Jewish tradition prizes coupledom, or perhaps because we are a little more likely than average to crave the stability and companionship it offers.

Whatever the reasons, the figures help to paint a portrait of Jewish life in the UK that we rarely see. Judaism often tends to venerate coupledom and the traditional model of family, and the data are an important reminder that there is no such thing as the identikit Jewish family or household, and that a very significant number of us, whether or not we have family elsewhere, are living alone.

For some, of course, that is an active positive choice, but for many it is not, and it often brings considerable loneliness and isolation. I’m sensing that rather a lot this week. Don’t tell my wife or children, but I’m kind of looking forward to them coming home. As, no doubt, is the dog.

August 11, 2022 14:43

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