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.


Brothers and Sisters

In a previous post we described how declining Catholic fertility rates have led to fewer baptisms (rather than this being related to any growing reluctance among parents to baptize their children). In this post, we show the effect this has had on Catholic family sizes over time.

As the figure below shows (data are from the General Social Survey or GSS), a majority of young self-identified Catholics (age 18 to 30) in the 1970s and 1980s had three or more siblings (including step-brothers and sisters and adopted siblings).  In the 1990s and 2000s, a majority have two or fewer siblings. A Catholic family with five or more children (the respondent and at least four siblings) has become harder to find, dropping from nearly half of young Catholics reporting this in the 1970s and 1980s to less than a third in the 1990s and 2000s. The rarest case is still the single-child family. Very few young Catholics in any decade report having no siblings.

The number of step-siblings has likely been on the rise as well as some of those who divorce and remarry have additional children. If both original spouses do this it creates a multiplier effect on the number of siblings. In the 1972 GSS, 8% of adult Catholics reported that they had ever gone through a divorce or legal separation in the past (3 percent were divorced or separated at the time and 5 percent had been divorced or separated in the past and were now married or widowed). This figure has risen steadily over the years and in the most recent GSS it was estimated to be 27%.

Note that just because a GSS respondent self-identifies as Catholic it does not mean that their siblings do. Also, even though the fertility rate in the United States is approximately two this is not a direct indicator of average family size. Many women do not have any children. Other women have more than two (as reflected in the sibling results). The GSS results for 'ever having been divorced' are consistent with CARA's own polling of adult Catholics.

Above photo courtesy of trontnort at Flickr Creative Commons.

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