The number of Catholics in America have fallen from 23.9 per cent in 2007 to 20.8 per cent in 2014, according to Pew Research Centre
For the first time, the unaffiliated have outnumbered Catholics in the United States, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Centre.
The major study of the religious landscape of the US shows a continuing decline in the number of people who consider themselves part of any religion, with the largest shift occurring among the “millennial” generation.
The Pew Research Centre survey of 35,000 people, conducted in 2014, found that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians declined by eight percentage points since the last religious landscape survey in 2007. The first data from the survey, released May 12, dealt primarily with religious affiliation. Future reports will address other parts of the survey, such as religious beliefs and practices.
The phenomena of people changing religions also has become more pronounced, the survey found, and said that is especially true for people who were raised Catholic.
“Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7 per cent) say they were raised Catholic,” the report said. “Among that group, fully 41 per cent no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9 per cent of American adults are former Catholics, while just two per cent of US adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.”
The report said the number of people who define themselves as religiously unaffiliated changed from 16 per cent in 2007 to 23 per cent in 2014.
Among those, the 51 million Catholics represents a decrease of about three million, or from 24 per cent of the population to 21 per cent. The study noted that the figure might be somewhat explained by the statistical margin of error, and could be as little as a decline of one million people.
It also added that Catholics’ percentage share of the population has remained relatively stable over decades, in comparison to Protestants, who have steadily declined.
A quibble with Pew’s numbers on Catholics was posted by Mark Gray, who studies Catholics for the Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Gray said Pew’s figures for Catholics don’t reflect what other polls by Gallup, Public Religion Research Institute and the General Social Survey have found. Those consistently find between 21 per cent and 26 per cent of the US population is Catholic, Gray said in a post on CARA’s “1984” blog.
Catholics are represented strongly among immigrants, however, the survey said. About 15 per cent of those surveyed were born outside the US, and two thirds of those are Christians, including 39 per cent who are Catholic. About 10 per cent of immigrants said they belong to a non-Christian faith, including Islam or Hinduism.
However, among millennials, the survey showed sharp differences in the percentage of people who say they’re Catholic, in comparison to older generations. In the three older generations the survey considered, 20-23 per cent of adults said they are Catholics. Among millennials, the percentage was 16 per cent. Pew counted as millennials those who were born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s.
Pew also considered how the people who say they have no religious affiliation define their beliefs. Between the surveys in 2007 and 2014, the number of “unaffiliated” people who say they are atheist or agnostic grew from 25 per cent to 31 per cent. Those who said religion is unimportant their lives also increased slightly.
Religions are also becoming more ethnically and racially diverse, the survey said.
Minorities now account for 41 per cent of Catholics, it found, up from 35 per cent in 2007. Among evangelical Protestants the increase was 24 per cent, up from 19 per cent seven years earlier, and 14 per cent for mainline Protestants, up from nine per cent in 2007.
Religious inter-marriage was found to be more common. The survey said 39 per cent of people who said they had married since 2010 are in religiously mixed marriages, compared to 19 per cent of those who married before 1960.
Other findings of the survey:
— The state with the highest percentage of Catholics is Rhode Island, with 42 per cent. Other states on the high end include: Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico, each with 34 per cent, and Connecticut, with 33 per cent. These states each have 25 per cent Catholics or more: California, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
On the low end, Mississippi has the fewest Catholics, at four per cent, Utah has five per cent and West Virginia has six per cent. Each of these states has fewer than 10 per cent Catholics: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
— The age group with the most Catholics remained the same in the seven years between studies, but the percentages shifted a bit. The largest number of Catholics are still in the 30-49 age range, but now that age group makes up 33 per cent of Catholics, compared to 41 per cent in 2007. Now 20 pe rcent of Catholics are over 65, compared with 16 per cent seven years ago. The number of 18- to 29-year-old Catholics is about the same, 17 per cent; it was 18 per cent in 2007. And the percentage between ages 50 and 60 increased to 29 per cent, up from 24 per cent.
— Race and ethnic composition among Catholics changed most significantly in the percentages of whites and Latinos. In 2007, 65 per cent were white and 29 per cent Latino. In 2014, 59 per cent were white and 34 per cent Latino. In 2007, 2 to 3 percent of Catholics were — and still are — Asian, black or “other/mixed.”
— A higher percentage of Catholics in 2014 were lower income. In 2007, 31 per cent of Catholics earned less than $30,000 a year, and 30 per cent earned between $50,000 and $99,999. In 2014, 36 per cent of Catholics earned less than $30,000 and 26 per cent earned between $50,000 and $99,999. The other income categories remained about the same, with 19 per cent of Catholics earning more than $100,000 and a similar percentage earning between $30,000 and $49,999.
— Fewer Catholic adults are married. In 2007, 58 per cent of Catholics said they were married; in 2014, 52 per cent were married. Slightly more Catholics said they are divorced — 12 per cent in 2014, up from 10 per cent in 2007. The number of those never married was 21 per cent, up from 17 per cent.