The Cost of Jewish Living: British Economists Create 'Kosher Chicken Index'

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A kosher roasted chicken.
A kosher roasted chicken.Credit: Limor Laniado Tiroche

Maintaining a Jewish lifestyle in the United Kingdom costs a pretty penny — an extra 12,700 pounds sterling ($17,900) a year, to be exact, found two economists.

Anthony Tricot, a consultant for Ernst and Young, and Andrea Silberman, a British Treasury economist, published their findings at this year’s Limmud conference.

Their research was driven by a desire to quantify community concerns about the spiraling cost of Jewish living, they said.  

“As economists, we wanted to see what actual data was available so we could encourage a more evidence-based debate on whether there is indeed a ‘cost of Jewish living’ crisis,” they wrote in the Jewish Chronicle.

Living Jewishly has several big-ticket expenses, they wrote.

Observant Jews are likely to spend an extra 2,000 pounds a year or more just on food, their research shows.

Kosher meat costs on average twice that of nonkosher supermarket meat, they found. They based their comparison on five products at London kosher chain Kosher Deli versus similar products at Tesco. That premium works out to 500 pounds a year. Those who buy only certified kosher food — and not just meat — are liable to spend even more.

Likewise, kosher Indian or Chinese restaurants cost 70% more than nonkosher restaurants. This is due to the higher material cost as well as supervision. There goes 1,500 pounds a year.

One of the biggest expenses of Jewish living is housing. In order to live Jewishly, Jews often choose to cluster in communities. One-fifth of Britain’s Jews choose to concentrate in the north London borough of Barnet, where housing costs 150% more than the average, they noted.

“Kosher inflation” outpaces the country’s inflation rate, according to the economists' findings. Kosher meat prices have doubled in a decade, compared to a 40% increase for other meat products. Likewise home prices in northwest London have jumped.

Other costs include synagogue membership, at 600-800 pounds per household. Some half of British Jewish households belong to a synagogue. And then there are religious state schools, which cost up to 2,000 pounds per child each year.

However, that’s cheaper than in the United States or France, where there are no state-funded religious schools, they noted.

Social pressure also makes life more expensive, they say.

“Simchahs are a further significant cost, driven by the need to ‘keep up with the Cohens,’” they write. Jews spend more than twice the U.K. average on weddings, and also pay for bar and bat mitzvahs.

Jews tend to be relatively well off — the average Jewish household earns 50% more than the British average — although more observant communities are less well off, they note. 

They caution that the high cost of living Jewishly drives many observant Jews to seek charity, while it may push others away from tradition. They call on community leaders to take action: to increase transparency and to seek ways of becoming more efficient. 

“Kashrut authorities need to value the interests of consumers over that of producers when deciding whether to license new stores or products. And communal organizations need to give greater consideration to inclusivity by offering activities and services at a wider range of price points,” they conclude.