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Catholic population in 2012

Friday, February 15, 2013 9:30 AM

This week’s post picks up where last week’s post left off. The analysis and mathematical model of the U.S. Catholic population can be extended beyond youth and young adults to the whole range of ages. Doing so yields the following chart of U.S. Catholics by race/ethnicity and age group:

Catholic Population in 2012 by Race, Ethnicity, and Age Group

At this point, a few words are in order regarding the methodology used to calculate the Catholic population. The surveys utilized to develop the model were all conducted with adult respondents only. Thus, the Catholic population estimates under age 20 are extrapolations from the adult survey data. Therefore, when looking at the numbers for the youngest Catholics, it is important to understand that many who are included in these numbers may not yet have been baptized. Rather, parents who considered themselves to be Catholic were assumed to have children with the same religious affiliation, irrespective of baptismal status.

In this analysis, it was not assumed that all age groups within a particular ethnic/racial group were equally likely to be Catholic. Rather, the religious profile of each age group was adjusted to reflect general trends in changing religiosity by generation and age. Nevertheless, the mathematical model ensures that the total Catholic population in each racial/ethnic group matches the survey results. The result is a somewhat smoothed-out model that fits the general findings of the surveys on which it is based.

Once again, it is helpful to put this information in context by comparing it to a chart created in 2006 based on the Census Bureau’s July 1, 2005 population estimates and two earlier surveys: the 2002 National Survey of Latinos (NSL) and the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS).

Catholic Population in 2005 by Race, Ethnicity, and Age Group

It should be noted that the total Catholic population figures generated from these estimates do not match the figures reported in the Official Catholic Directory. This discrepancy is consistent with what scholars have long noted&emdash;that more people self-identify as Catholic than are counted in the parish and diocesan reports. This phenomenon is especially true for immigrant Hispanics who were never required to register (other than at baptism) in their home country. Thus, Instituto Fe y Vida estimates that there were 80.7 million Catholics in the U.S. in 2012, while the official count is around 66 million.

Recent studies show that the rate of disaffiliation from the Catholic Church has increased in the last few years, especially among Euro-American (white) young adults and their third+ generation Hispanic peers. However, until a more up-to-date large-scale survey is conducted, the Research Center’s estimates will continue to be based on profiles developed from surveys conducted in 2011 for Hispanics and 2008 for all others. This suggests that the total white Catholic population in certain groups of the 2012 chart above could be too high—especially relative to the Hispanics, whose estimates are based on more recent survey data.

What stands out in the 2012 chart is that Hispanics are now the largest ethnic community among Catholics in every age group under 40. Also, the largest segment of white Catholics has moved up in age from 40–49 to 50–59. By spitting the Catholic population into two groups—those under 40 and those over 40—the following two tables describe the demographic changes in the overall U.S. population by ethnic/racial group, as well as the changes in the Catholic population.

Population Change from 2005 to 2012, Under Age 40

Racial / Ethnic Group

Change in Overall Population

Change in Catholic Population

White, non-Hispanic Decreased by
6.5 million (7%)
Decreased by
4.6 million (22%)
Hispanic, any race Increased by
6.3 million (21%)
Increased by
960 thousand (5%)
Black, non-Hispanic Increased by
1.0 million (4%)
Decreased by
75 thousand (5%)
Asian, non-Hispanic Increased by
1.3 million (17%)
Decreased by
120 thousand (8%)
Other Increased by
825 thousand (25%)
Decreased by
70 thousand (10%)

Population Change from 2005 to 2012, Over Age 40

Racial / Ethnic Group

Change in Overall Population

Change in Catholic Population

White, non-Hispanic Increased by
5.9 million (6%)
Increased by
1.3 million (6%)
Hispanic, any race Increased by
4.7 million (40%)
Increased by
2.5 million (30%)
Black, non-Hispanic Increased by
2.6 million (19%)
Increased by
170 thousand (19%)
Asian, non-Hispanic Increased by
1.8 million (36%)
Increased by
240 thousand (23%)
Other Increased by
400 thousand (23%)
Decreased by
45 thousand (12%)

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please take a moment to share it with others below or write us a note. You are also invited to send us your name and email address by using the form in the left-hand column of this page, so that we can keep you informed with our latest updates. As always, feel free to contact us to explore how Instituto Fe y Vida’s Research and Resource Center can help you understand the pastoral needs in your community or overcome the challenges you are experiencing. ¡Paz y bien a todos!

Posted by Ken Johnson-Mondragón | in Demographics | 5 Comments »

5 Comments on “Catholic population in 2012

  1. Father Masseo Gonzales Says:

    First, thank you for all of your work. Amazing. Second, I’m wondering if you can update your percentage of catholics in each state graphic? The one where you have the entire country, with all the states color coded depending on the number of Hispanic catholics in that state? Only reflects up until 2006.

    Thanks again for all your work.

  2. Ken Johnson-Mondragón Says:

    Padrecito, it’s good to hear from you! I’m also a fan of the work you are doing to help young Latinos in California build their faith and stay out of trouble through the performing arts. ¡Dios te bendiga!

    I have on my agenda to update the state-by-state map with new data from the 2010 Census, but it may be a while before I get to it. It is actually a very time-consuming process because the Census Bureau does not track religious affiliation. I have to correlate data from a number of different sources and in some cases make educated guesses about how the Catholicity of various racial/ethnic groups varies from state to state. I noticed you are already signed up to receive the our Insights newsletter, so you will receive a notice once the new map is available. Thanks for your interest and support!

  3. Father Masseo Gonzales Says:

    Thank you Ken – again, your work is amazing!!!!! You get it! 🙂

  4. Father Masseo Gonzales Says:

    Ken – you have only 61% of Hispanics in the United States being Catholic (total 53,843,741 Hispanics and 33,100,000 Catholic). Isn’t that number sort of low? It was estimated to be roughly 75% about five years ago. Am I missing something?? 🙂

  5. Ken Johnson-Mondragón Says:

    Thanks for your question. The short answer is: I stand by my estimates. For the long answer, see my latest post. Happy Easter!

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