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.



According to the results of recent CARA Catholic Polls (CCP), generational changes are underway that are transforming the demography of the U.S. Catholic population. Through a combination of immigration and different fertility rates among sub-groups of the population, racial and ethnic identities of the Catholic population now vary significantly by generation.

CARA generally groups Catholics into four generations:
  • The “Pre-Vatican II Generation,” ages 68 and over in 2010. The Pre-Vatican II Generation was born in 1942 or earlier. Its members came of age before the Second Vatican Council. Members of the Pre-Vatican II Generation currently make up about 12 percent of the Catholic population.
  • The “Vatican II Generation,” ages 50-67 in 2010.  These are the “baby boomers” who were born between 1943 and 1960, a time of great demographic and economic growth. They came of age during the time of the Second Vatican Council and their formative years likely spanned that time of profound changes in the Church. Vatican II Generation parishioners currently make up 31 percent of the Catholic population.
  • The “Post-Vatican II Generation,” ages 29-49 in 2010. Born between 1961 and 1981, this generation, sometimes called “Generation X” or “baby busters” by demographers, has no lived experience of the pre-Vatican II Church. Thirty-eight percent of adult Catholics are members of the Post-Vatican II Generation.  
  • The “Millennial Generation,” ages 18-28 in 2010. This generation, born in 1982 or later (up to 1992 among adults), have come of age primarily under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Because some still live with their parents, their religious practice is often closely related to that of their families of origin. Nineteen percent of adult Catholics belong to the Millennial Generation.
As the figure below shows, differences between these groups are not limited to age. Estimates based on the aggregated results of multiple recent CCPs indicate that three in four of the oldest generation of Catholics self-identifies their race and ethnicity as non-Hispanic White. By comparison, just fewer than four in ten of the youngest generation of adult Catholics identifies as such.

Very similar proportions of Catholics self-identify as Black or African American, Asian or Pacific Islander, or Native American across generations. However, the most significant growth occurs among Catholics self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino/a. Just 15 percent of Pre-Vatican II Catholics identified as such, compared to 54 percent of Millennials.

There is a fifth generation on the horizon. Although there is no clear rule for dividing generations it is generally accepted that Catholic children born today are not Millennials (that generation began with those born in 1982 and ends approximately with those born in 2002). There is still much research to be done on Millennials. Generally we can only know about those age 18 or older with surveys. Thus, about half of the Millennial Generation (those born 1993 to 2002) are not in “view” yet of polling. There is no indication that this portion of Millennials or the fifth generation that is being created now will alter this trend toward greater racial and ethnic diversity among the Catholic population.

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