Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

The debate over Jewish employment structure in the Journal for Demography and Statistics of the Jews (1905-1931)

Vallois Nicolas, CRIISEA, Université Picardie Jules Verne

The late 19th century saw the multiplication of statistical studies on the Jewish populations. This literature is now known as “Jewish Statistics” or “Jewish Social Science” (hereafter JSS). This article focuses on the articles published in der Zeitschrift für Demographie und Statistik der Juden (Journal for Demography and Statistics of the Jews, hereafter ZDSJ). The ZDSJ was the main journal in JSS and appeared from 1905 until 1931. Existing scholarship on Jewish statistics has either focused on the influence of Zionism (Hart, 2000) or eugenics and race theory (Efron, 1994). Our claim is that JSS can also be related to the history of economic thought and treated as an early type of empirical economics. The main economic concern in JSS was the question of Jewish “occupational” or employment structure: Jews were seen as excessively concentrated in commercial activities, thus raising a debate over Jewish “productivization”, i.e. on whether and how an occupational shift from commerce to industry and agriculture could occur (Kahan, 1986, p.43). As suggests both the intellectual profile of the main contributors to the ZDSJ, and the academic ambition of the journal, we argue that JSS was a by-product of the German historical school in economics. We then analyze the way the ZDSJ contributed to the debate on Jewish “productivization”. Numbers played an ambivalent role in this discussion: though contributors to the ZDSJ were certainly committed toward empirical rigor, statistics served also apologetic purposes, to disprove antisemitic claims about Jewish economic behavior, while Jewish statisticians themselves were not themselves free from economic stereotypes. In the end, the ZDSJ had two important economic and statistical legacies. It firstly provided a vast amount of “cleaned” economic data that could and has been used in subsequent research. Authors in the ZDSJ also developed a specific sense of reflexivity toward occupational categories, which led to a critical approach toward self-employment and precarious work.


Keywords: Jews, Capitalism, Statistics, Empirical Economics, German Historical School, History of economics thought

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