Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Catholicism in Spain


All eyes are on Madrid with World Youth Day underway. Spain is often lumped in with other European countries when people talk of the secularization and decline of Catholicism on the continent. Yet, each country really has its own story and Spain, much like Italy and Ireland, has not seen much of a loss in terms of identity and affiliation in the aggregate compared to other areas of Europe. However, it has seen a steeper drop in Mass attendance than both Italy and Ireland.

The good news? There are likely more Catholics in Spain today than ever. The figure below is based on census estimates and respondents’ self-identification of their religion and church attendance from the World Values Survey. It applies only to the adult population (age 18 and older). In 1981, there were an estimated 25.8 million Catholic adults in Spain and this had grown to 29.8 million in 2007 (most recent data available). 

However, during this same span of time (the bad news) the percentage of all adults self-identifying as Catholic and reporting that they attend Mass at least once a week, every week dropped from 41% to 15% (11.6 million to 5.7 million adults attending every week). In any given week 6.7 million adult Catholics are estimated to attend Mass at least once. This is equivalent to about 300 attenders per parish.

Growth of the adult Catholic population has not kept up with the overall adult population growth in Spain (+15.3% for Catholics compared to +29.7% for the population overall). However, this is not primarily because many people have stopped raising their children Catholic nor is it because some huge number of adults have left the faith. More important has been the crash in fertility in Spain (people having too few children to raise Catholic or not). Immigration has been essential for Spain to maintain its population growth. Whereas in the United States this has often led to Catholic population growth, this does not often occur in many areas of Europe. Instead, immigration there is often coming from non-Catholic countries. As the numbers of immigrants have grown in Spain, the Catholic population has become a smaller component of the overall population.

In 1964, the Spanish fertility rate was well above replacement at 3.01 (the replacement rate is an average of 2.1 births per woman—enough to replace both parents). This reached a low of just 1.15 in the mid-1990s before increasing slightly to 1.4 now. This increase is in part a result of a larger population of immigrants from developing countries who tend to have higher fertility rates. For most of the post-World War II era Spain did not have a significant inflow of immigration. That all changed in the mid-1990s with the creation of the European Union and the movement of economic activity to areas of Europe with lower labor costs. There were only about 500,000 foreign-born residents of Spain in the mid-1990s. This has increased to 5.7 million in more recent estimates. The largest groups of immigrants are from Morocco, Romania, and the United Kingdom. There are also segments of this immigration that likely bolster Spain's Catholic numbers coming from Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia.

The fastest growing religious group in Spain is the Nones—those lacking any religious affiliation (although they may still have religious or spiritual beliefs). Among adults, this group has expanded by 174% since 1981 and in 2007 represented more than 7 million adults residing in the country. That means adult Nones are similar in number to all adult Catholics attending Mass in an average week.

The Vatican estimates that there are 42.5 million Catholics in Spain of all ages as of 2009 (source: Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae, 2009). This would represent 92.5% of the total population. The World Values Survey estimated a slightly lower Catholic affiliation percentage of 82.3% among adults in 2007. According to Vatican estimates, there are an estimated 1,873 Catholics in Spain for each parish—significantly lower than the 3,834 Catholics per parish estimated for the United States. Although Spain is only 1/19th the size of the U.S., it has 4,520 more parishes. 

Above photo courtesy of Catholic Westminster at Flickr Creative Commons.

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