Age & educational attainment of U.S. Catholics — Eight types of Catholics in one graph

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This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

Earlier this week, I charted the median age and education of American religious groups. Catholics represented the largest church in that graph. While putting Catholics in one group is accurate, it belies some important differences within the church.

This new graph looks at Catholics only. I divide Catholics into eight types. This is a typology I’ve used previously to examine the politics of U.S. Catholics. I give the details on how I divided up Catholics later in the post.

See a graph of the politics of American Catholics

See a graph of the foreign policy positions of American Catholics

Observations from the graph

  • Modern Catholics have the highest level of education, with just under half with a college degree. These Catholics are also younger than most other practicing Catholics.
  • Not Practicing Catholics are the youngest group of Catholics. They also have lower levels of education than most other Catholics.
  • Traditional and Pentecostal Catholics are less educated than Modern Catholics.
  • Latinos show an interesting demographic divide. Among Latinos, modern Catholics are much older than both traditional & Pentecostals. Modern Latinos also have a slightly higher percentage of college graduates.

Getting to eight types of Catholics

I’ve broken down Catholics into eight types. There’s no magic reason to have nine and not four, six, or a dozen. But these nine are based on several differences we find among American Catholics.

1. Practicing vs. Not Practicing Catholics

Some people are culturally Catholic but are not active in their religion. They were born (and baptized) Catholic and may have been raised Catholic. As adults, however, they do not participate in the life of a local parish.  For my purposes, I used a low bar to place people into the “not practicing” category. Catholics who attend even a few times a year are, at least in this study, considered practicing.

2. Traditional vs. Modern Catholics

One of the challenges among Catholics is how to bring together the church’s tradition with modern life. Traditional Catholics are those who believe the Church should “preserve its traditional beliefs and practices.”  In contrast, modern Catholics are those who believe that the church should “adjust” to modern life or even “adopt modern beliefs and practices.”

3. Latino Catholics vs. other ethnic Catholics

Latinos are one of the largest ethnicities within the American Catholic church. In many places, they are also one of the most recent immigrants. To be clear: not all Latino catholics are part of Latino congregations. Still, many are, and, for now, they represent a different flavor of Catholicism in America.

4. Pentecostal Catholics vs. other Catholics

Most pentecostals are evangelical Protestants, but there are also many Catholics who are pentecostal. Pentecostalism is a religious movement that emphasizing  the active working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Catholics, which believed to be manifest in miracles or speaking in tongues. Pentecostal Catholics often participate in services beyond the traditional mass, services that feature contemporary, energetic worship services. Pentecostal Catholics are a growing movement with the Church worldwide, just as they are within Protestantism.

Putting these four divisions together, I can identify eight types of Catholics in America:

  1. Not practicing
  2. Latino Pentecostal (includes both modern and traditional because of sample size)
  3. Latino Modern (does not include Pentecostals)
  4. Latino Traditional (does not include Pentecostals)
  5. Pentecostal Traditional (does not include Latinos)
  6. Pentecostal Modern (does not include Latinos)
  7. Traditional (does not include Latinos or Pentecostals)
  8. Modern (does not include Latinos or Pentecostals)

See a graph of the age & education for 44 U.S. religious groups

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