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.


Catholic Mass Attendance Returning to Normal in Polls… How About in the Pews?

In the previous post we showed that Catholic affiliation was relatively unaffected by the pandemic. Now, there is also evidence that Mass attendance may have returned to pre-pandemic levels among U.S. Catholic adults. Weekly attendance dipped to 17% in late 2020 and early 2021 according to the General Social Survey (GSS). Yet, at this year’s end, it appears just fewer than a quarter are attending Mass weekly—or at least that is what they are reporting in CARA’s polls. This is similar to results in CARA and GSS surveys in years prior to the pandemic.

The changes shown above generally track with what CARA estimates using Google Trends data. What do you see in your parish? Are the numbers of people in the pews back to what you remember before the pandemic?


Some Americans Disaffiliate During the Pandemic: Catholics Hold Steady

The number of U.S. adults saying they do not have a religious affiliation rose sharply during the pandemic. In the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS), 23% of U.S. adults reporting no affiliation. In the 2021 GSS survey, 29% responded as such. The shift spans across generations. Millennials saw the steepest rise at +7 percentage points unaffiliated, followed by Generation X (+5 percentage points), the Silent Generation (+4 percentage points), and Baby Boomers (+3 percentage points).

Why the sharp increase? I am not sure there are sufficient questions in the GSS at this time to ground an answer in data. However, my hypothesis would be that as many were unable to go to religious services some adjusted to a new way of life. Yet, it’s not just as if Americans shifted the practice of their faith inside their home. In 2018, 56% reported daily prayer. In 2012, just 44% indicate this.

The share of the population affiliating as Catholic in 2018 was 23% and measured 22% in 2021. This change is statistically insignificant and within margin of error. More noticeable was the decline in numbers affiliating as some other Christian which was 48% in 2018 and 42% in 2021.

Like others, Catholics didn’t necessarily take their faith “home” during the pandemic. In 2018, 60% of Catholics reported daily prayer in the GSS. This fell to 50% in 2021. Also, not every Catholic who attended Mass weekly prior to the pandemic was back attending weekly again in 2021. Weekly Mass attendance measured 22% in 2018 and 17% in 2021. 

Note that these trends are very similar to what the Pew Research Center found using a different set of data.

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