This article was last modified on November 29, 2010.

American Jews and Delinquency

Since the 1950s, Jewish children in American have shown lower rates of juvenile delinquency than any other ethnic group. This raises two questions: why are they “better” children, and how do we take the lessons learned and implement them across the board?

The Statistics

In the early 20th Century, Jewish children had rising delinquency problems. As Cedar Knolls School for Girls President Madeleine Borg noted in 1913:

The problem of the delinquent Jewish girl is the most recent issue…. The Jews … with their strong religious principles and … high … ideals as to the chastity of their persons, thrown into new surroundings, where the customs of the country are strange and incomprehensible to them, amid different economic conditions, where the struggle for mere existence is so keen, find many of their cherished beliefs slipping away from them as impossible and impracticable.

However, since 1950, this trend had disappeared completely. Indeed, “Jews, Chinese, and Japanese… produce remarkably few delinquents.” [Barron: 56] In the New York Times of August 19, 1956: “Few Jewish children are adjudged to be delinquent, but comparatively many are emotionally disturbed… Only 2.2 per cent of all children brought into Children’s Court for misbehavior in 1952 were Jewish, while about 31.5 per cent of the total city population was Jewish.”

Possible Reasons

A study in one “Boston suburb found that lower-class Jews made more use of reward in disciplining their five-year-old children than did lower-class Italian, Irish, Old-American, or British parents. On the assumption that use of reward leads to closer bonds in the family, this suggests that family integration among Jews in a block to absorption into a delinquent subculture.” [Wilensky: 203]

“Jewish immigrants come more often from urban areas, and already possess some of the skills required for competitive survival in the city.” [Wilensky: 204] “In Detroit the Jewish population is heavily professional and business in occupation, the Catholics are more often factory workers — a difference which naturally shows up in the agency caseloads.” [Wilensky: 170]

Also, one must take into account “the special place of scholarship in the Jewish tradition” [Wilensky: 204]


How can we get non-Jewish children to behave as well as their Jewish counterparts? We cannot force a culture to embrace scholarship or move parents from the factory to a professional career (though factory jobs as a whole will likely decrease on their own). What is the solution to juvenile delinquency?


Barron, Milton L. The Juvenile in Delinquent Society. Alfred A. Knopf, 1954.

Wilensky, Harold L. and Charles N. Lebeaux. Industrial Society and Social Welfare. Free Press, 1965.

Also try another article under Miscellaneous
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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