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Catholic youth and young adults in 2012

Friday, February 8, 2013 9:30 AM

The U.S. Census Bureau recently published new national estimates for the U.S. population by age, sex, and race/Hispanic origin through December 1, 2012. Insitituto Fe y Vida’s Research and Resource Center utilizes this data, in combination with the Census Bureau’s March Supplement to the Current Population Survey (for generational analysis) and other major surveys (for religious affiliation) to develop a mathematical model of the Catholic population by age group and racial/ethnic background. The model has now been updated with data from the 2011 National Survey of Latinos (NSL) and the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS).

High school-age Catholics

It has been useful in the past to separate the analysis of youth from young adults, because the highest rate of immigration tends to occur between the ages of 16 and 25. Consequently, the two populations exhibit marked differences with respect to Hispanic generations. Thus, the first chart below shows the racial / ethnic and generational (for Hispanics) diversity of high school-age Catholics, meaning those between the ages of 14 and 17 on December 1, 2012. Not all of these young people are actually enrolled in high school—some have dropped out or gone on to college—but this is the age group typically served by parish high school youth ministry programs.

Catholic Youth in 2012 by Race, Ethnicity, and Generation

It is helpful to put this information in context by comparing it to a comparable chart created in 2006 based on the Census Bureau’s July 1, 2005 population estimates and NSL 2002 / ARIS 2001.

Catholic Youth in 2005 by Race, Ethnicity, and Generation

The two charts reveal a substantial change in the shape of the Catholic youth population in just a seven-year period. There are two components to this change: 1) changes in the overall population of adolescents in the U.S.; and 2) changes in the relative proportion of Catholics in each ethnic / racial group. A closer look at the two components for each ethnic / racial group reveals the following:

Racial / Ethnic Group

Change in Overall Population (Catholics and non-Catholics)

Change in Catholicity

White, non-Hispanic Decreased by
1.25 million (12%)
Decreased by
2.75 percentage points
Hispanic, any race Increased by
780 thousand (27%)
Decreased by
7 percentage points
Black, non-Hispanic Decreased by
100 thousand (4%)
Decreased by
0.5 percentage points
Asian, non-Hispanic Increased by
100 thousand (17%)
Decreased by
3 percentage points
Other Increased by
45 thousand (11%)
Decreased by
5.2 percentage points

Of the five racial / ethnic groups in the chart, only Hispanic Catholic youth grew numerically from 2005 to 2012—despite a 7 percentage-point drop in catholicity—while the overall Catholic youth population shrank by about 300 thousand. That explains the increase in the Hispanic share of young Catholics from 43% in 2005 to 52% in 2012. Most of the Hispanic growth can be attributed to a nearly 200 thousand climb in the number of second-generation Hispanic Catholic youth.

Young adult Catholics

A similar comparison of Catholics ages 18 to 29 is reflected in the following two charts:

Catholic Young Adults in 2012 by Race, Ethnicity, and Generation


Catholic Young Adults in 2005 by Race, Ethnicity, and Generation

The changes in the Catholic young adult population are less dramatic than for the high school-age youth, yet the overall Hispanic percentage still increased from 47% to 50%, while the total number of Catholic young adults decreased by almost a million (7%). Once again, a large increase was seen in the Hispanic second generation, and all other racial/ethnic/generational groups declined.

It is worth noting that although the size of the immigrant generation of Hispanic young adults declined by roughly half a million, it remains the largest generational cohort among Latino Catholic young adults. There can be no doubt that the need for programs, events, and activities targeting Hispanic young adults in Spanish will continue for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the future of Pastoral Juvenil Hispana must include an adequate response to the distinct social and pastoral needs of the second and later generations as well, in both the young adult and youth age groups.

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, Pastoral Juvenil | 2 Comments »

2 Comments on “Catholic youth and young adults in 2012

  1. Catholic Youth Ministry Blog » Two Minutes Newsletter 02-21-13 Says:

    […] to Use: Recent research continues to monitor the generational growth of Hispanics of high school age.  How is your […]

  2. Paul Says:

    Am grateful for this kind of information, and what kinds of programs for Hispanic youth will be needed from the Catholic leaders.
    Thank you, Ken!

    Paul Frechette sm

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