New Gallup Study on Protestants and Catholics

Gallup presented new research on the popularity of the Catholic and Protestant church (here). They emphasized weekly attendance, though I think their data on religious self-identification is actually more significant.

First, they show that the percentage of Catholics attending church each week has plummeted in recent decades, while attendance of Protestants is basically steady. The decline in Catholic attendance is due to younger generations, who not only attend church less frequently, but often leave the church entirely. Older generations, on the other hand, die off.

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Gallup mentions that younger Catholics generally attend church, but not so often. This is probably related to the virtual disappearance of confessions, which were once very popular. I remember in the 1950s and 1960s many Catholics going to church each Sunday to clean their record of sins -- prior to accruing those same sins again in the following week. This was in the days before the sexual revolution, and Catholic girls had a reputation for being easy.

Religious Identification

Religious self-identification has changed dramatically:

                                    Religious Affiliation (%)

                        Protestant        Catholic          Other     None

2014-2017       47                    22                    11           20

1955                71                    24                     4             1


Protestants show a huge decline, while Catholics largely maintain their religious identity. But while Catholics may retain their identity, they ignore many of the Church’s rules (e.g., regarding confession, birth control, masturbation, looking at others with lust, etc.), and also sharply reduce their attendance at church. That is, today’s Catholics give lip service to the Church while quietly rejecting many of its traditional doctrines.

Protestants, who were less zealous about attending church to begin with, now show a strong tendency to chuck their religious affiliation entirely – though they are reluctant to call themselves agnostics or atheists, which still carry highly negative connotations.  


Overall, the strongest trend is a loss of religiosity. This manifests itself differently for Protestants and Catholics, who had very different prior patterns of religious behavior. Now they have converged in frequency of church attendance, attitudes toward birth control, and absence of a sacrament concerning the confession and elimination of sins. There may be a trend toward a more generic form of Christianity. In any case, religious institutions are much weaker than before, and many younger people refuse to be affiliated with any religion.


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