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.


The Nuances of Accurately Measuring Mass Attendance

How many Catholics are at Mass on a weekly basis? This percentage varies depending on if one is interested in those who attend every week and those who are at Mass on any given weekend.  There are also important differences in how one conducts the poll that generates these numbers.

CARA has conducted 19 CARA Catholic Polls (CCP), national surveys of adult self-identified Catholics, since 2000. Some of these have been by telephone and others have been conducted online using Knowledge Networks national panel. There are important and interesting differences between the results of Mass attendance questions from CARA’s online self-administered polls and CARA's telephone polls that are strongly related to the effects of the presence of an interviewer.

These differences are not limited to Mass attendance and generally are observable for any socially desirable activity from financial giving and frequency of prayer and confession. CARA’s self-administered surveys consistently show lower levels of Mass attendance than what is exhibited typically in CARA’s telephone polls.  Survey researchers have long understood that the personal interaction between interviewer and respondent can create over-reports of certain activities (such as voting or giving to charity) that are considered socially desirable.  Responses to questions regarding attendance at religious services are known to be biased toward estimates higher than actual attendance as measured by head counts.   Below we show varying estimates of Catholic weekly attendance using telephone polls and other methods such as head counts and time diaries.

CARA's self-administered surveys use methods that do not require a human interviewer--respondents are answering questions as they appear on-screen (either through a computer or on their television using MSN TV).  Self-administered surveys, such as this, are known to reduce over-reports for questions that have socially desirable response sets (encompassing attitudes people believe they “should” have or behaviors they feel they “should” do), producing results that more closely reflect actual behavior than estimates derived from telephone polls.  

The estimated percentage of Catholics attending Mass every week using the responses to CARA's self-administered surveys are more consistent with what is found in estimates of the attendance of Catholics derived from other methods, such as sample-based head counts and time diary studies.  As the figure below shows, results from 12 CARA telephone surveys and seven CARA-Knowledge networks surveys (using self-administered methods), produce no statistically significant changes in weekly Mass attendance between 2000 and 2008 by either method of polling.  All variations are within the sampling margin of error.  The difference between the two methods of polling is consistently about 8 to 14 percentage points for those who say they attend weekly or more often.  On average, in CARA's self-administered surveys 22% to 23% percent of adult self-identified Catholics say they attend Mass on a weekly basis (i.e. every week).
Some other surveys, such as those conducted by Gallup, ask about religious service attendance in any given week (e.g., the last seven days).  In the table below, we convert the responses from the CARA question and estimate the percentage of Catholics that attend Mass in any given week rather than every week.  This is estimated to be 31.4%.
By chance one might expect about 2% of those who say they “rarely or never” attend Mass to have attended Mass in any given seven-day period (odds of 1 in 52).  If one takes the 32% of Catholics responding in this manner and multiplies it by 2%, one can estimate that 0.6% of Catholic Mass attendance in any given week is made up of those who say they "rarely or never" attend Mass.  This same calculation can be done for each category of responses that indicate less than weekly attendance. 

Gallup estimates that 45% of Catholics attend Mass in any given week. CARA estimates this to be about 13 percentage points lower.  This is consistent with expectations as Gallup polls use an interviewer over the phone and are thus influenced by social desirability bias.

Note: Knowledge Networks panel has been shown to be representative to well within 1 percentage point to the U.S. Census Current Population Survey (CPS) demographics for gender, age, race and ethnicity, education, and region.  See: Baker et al. (2003), “Validity of the Survey of Health and Internet and Knowledge Networks Panel and Sampling,” Stanford University and Krosnick and Chiat Chang (2001), “A Comparison of Random Digit Dialing Telephone Survey Methodology with Internet Survey Methodology as Implemented by Knowledge Networks and Harris Interactive,” Ohio State University. The panel is updated on a quarterly basis and those persons who are sampled and asked to join the Knowledge Networks panel receive subsidized Internet access and other incentives.  For those who do not own computers, Knowledge Networks provides a television-based Internet system (MSN TV) for free.  These steps ensure that the Knowledge Networks panel is as reflective as possible of the national population and that it is not biased towards those who have pre-existing access to the Internet.

For references or more information on this topic see: 
Mark Chaves and James C. Cavendish. 1994. "More Evidence on U.S. Catholic Church Attendance." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 33: pp. 376-381.
Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson. 1998. "Data Collection Mode and Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Attendance." American Sociological Review. 63: pp. 137-145.
C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler. 2005. "How Many Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement." Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 44: pp. 307-322.  


Searching for Mass online…

If you needed to find a Catholic Mass what would you do? If you said “I’d Google it.” You may be like many other Catholics in the United States—at least on some days.

Google dominates the search engine wars, garnering nearly two out of every three searches done on the Internet in the United States.  Google Trends (example) provides a window into the search behavior of its users.

So when are Catholics looking for “Mass times”? (...not to be confused with, which can help you find a Mass if you have the URL bookmarked or memorized)

The search volume for Mass times on Google is always highest the week of Christmas.  On average, users are more than twice as likely to be searching for this during that week compared to the average week. If you guessed Easter Week as the next busiest week for this search you would be wrong. Instead it is the week of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

Holy Days of Obligation that could possibly be abrogated when falling on a Saturday or Monday get more search traffic for Mass times when these fall on other days of the week.  However, the Feast of the Assumption is the only Holy Day of Obligation which draws significantly more search traffic for Mass times than in the average week.

During the January 2004 to September 2009 period, no week matched the week that began on December 21, 2008 for the volume of searches for Mass times (2.4 times as many searches than in the average week).  The lowest traffic week during this period was the week beginning on May 6, 2007 (0.6 times as many searches than in the average week).  Of the top ten weeks for searches of Mass times all are in weeks for Christmas or Ash Wednesday with the exception of Easter Week in 2004.

Most young adult Catholics still the marrying type

A recent CARA survey reveals that 86% of young adult Catholics, age 18 to 35, are either married (39%) or say it is at least “somewhat” likely that they will marry in the future (47%).

Only one in ten young adult Catholics have never been married and believe it is only “a little” likely that they will in the future.  Some 4% say that this is “not at all likely.”  Two percent of young adult Catholics have married but are either separated or divorced.

Among young adult Catholics who have never married but who say it is at least “a little” likely that they will marry in the future, the most common reason noted for having yet to marry is “I haven’t met the right person” (59%) followed by “I am focused on other aspects of my life” (57%).  Forty-three percent also say “I am not personally ready to marry.”

Few, less than one in five each, cited their own independence (17%), a lack of willingness to marry from a partner (14%), or negative experiences in relationships (12%), or the negative experiences of relatives or peers who have been married a reason for not having yet married themselves.

Two-thirds of married young adult Catholics (66%) have a Catholic spouse.  By comparison, 73% of married Catholics older than 35 are married to a Catholic. 

Among never-married young adult Catholics, only 27% say it is “somewhat” or “very” important to them that a future spouse be Catholic.  Twenty-six percent say this is only “a little important” and 48% indicate it is “not at all” important to them that their future spouse be Catholic if they were to marry.  This does not mean they are actively seeking a non-Catholic spouse and in fact many who do marry will likely wed a Catholic spouse due to social proximity.

At the same time, many never-married young adult Catholics do say it is important for them to be married in the Catholic Church.  Nearly half (48%) say this is “somewhat” or “very” important to them and 24 percent indicate this is “a little” important to them. 

Sixty-four percent of married young adult Catholics were either married in the Church (60%) or have had their marriage blessed by the Church (4%). By comparison, 71% of married Catholics older than 35 were married in the Church (66%) or have had their marriage blessed (5%). 

Young adult Catholics are slightly more likely than older Catholics say they at least “somewhat” believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment (91% compared to 85%).  However, they are less likely to believe similarly that marriage as a calling from God (51% compared to 56%) or as a vocation (50% compared to 55%).

Young adult Catholics have very similar opinions to those of older Catholics regarding the acceptability of divorce.  Seventy-six percent of both groups agree with Church teachings that divorce is acceptable in some cases (e.g., the Church does not require one to stay in an abusive relationship).

When asked about specific circumstances, young adult Catholics were slightly more likely than older Catholics to believe divorce is acceptable for all of the situations listed. 

Young adult Catholics are more likely than older Catholics to agree that when they marry they want their spouse to be their soulmate first and foremost (84% compared to 75%) and that couples don’t take marriage seriously enough when divorce is easily available (76% compared to 69%).

Young adult Catholics are significantly more likely than older Catholics to agree that living with a partner before marriage decreases the risk of divorce (41% compared to 22%).  Eight percent of surveyed young adult Catholics indicated that they are unmarried and currently living with a partner, compared to 4% of older Catholics.

Catholics under the age of 36 are just as likely as those who are older to agree “somewhat” or “very much” that:
  • Marriage is an outdated institution (11% compared to 9%)
  • Personal freedom is more important than the companionship of marriage (both 12%)
  • Marriage is not necessary if a couple decides to have children (both 16%)
  • Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems (both 29%)
  • Watching children grow is life’s greatest joy (both 78%)
A full report of the results of the survey is available at:

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