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Saint Peter's Leaky Boat: Falling Intergenerational Persistence among U.S.-Born Catholics since 1974


Since the 1950s, one-of-four American adults has been a Catholic. That constant fraction hides substantial change. Higher fertility, more immigrants, and a relatively young age distribution implies growth, not stasis. The demographic advantage is reflected in the growing fraction of adults who were raised Catholic. The fraction raised Catholic exceeded one-of-three Americans in recent years. The difference between one-of-four and one-of-three means substantial defection. More than ever, people raised Catholic are leaving; most drop out of organized religion altogether. Measures of core beliefs and strength of identity changed less, overall, implying that it was inactive and weakly identified Catholics who left. Identities, beliefs, and practices among millennials with no religious preference, but Catholic roots underscore the degree to which changes are rooted in disaffection with organized religion. Among people who were raised Catholic, the traditional sexual ethic continued to Erode, but papal authority has not changed across recent cohorts.

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