The Catholic faith is said to have its roots in the 12 apostles of Christ, which Peter being given the “keys to the kingdom.” Based on Matthew 16:19, this gives Catholics upwards of 2,000 years of history with which to work. This means there is also a treasure trove of demographic data about Catholics to examine.
Since 1910, the number of Catholics around the world has tripled, growing from 291 million in 1910 to over 1.1 billion people today.
Much of this growth is actually attributed to the growth of the human race. Catholics as part of the global community have remained rather stable, making up 48% of Christians and about 16% of the global population in total. What has changed in the last 100 years is where Catholics live. Today only 1 in 4 Catholics live in Europe. In 1910, that percentage was 65%.
Where Will You Find Catholics Today?
- Brazil is home to the largest number of Catholics in the world today, with an estimate 126.7 million followers. This accounts for 11.7% of the total world Catholic population.
- 65% of the population in Brazil considers themselves to be Catholic.
- In Mexico, 85% of the population identifies with the Catholic faith, accounting for another 96.4 million followers.
- Latin America accounts for 483 million Catholics, or 41.3% of the total Catholic population.
- The Philippines has 75.5 million followers of the Catholic faith, with 81% of the population identifying themselves as part of the church.
- 1 in 3 followers of the Catholic faith comes from an Hispanic background.
- Outside of the Vatican City which reports being 100% Catholic, Poland has the highest percentage of the population [92.2%] which identifies with Catholicism.
- Asia has also seen a growth in Catholicism and now represents almost 12% of the total Catholic population in the world, or 137 million people.
- The United States, which has the fourth highest number of Catholics as a nation in the world today, has the lowest percentage of the population that is Catholic at 24.3%.
When it comes to the Christian faith around the world, Catholicism dominates all other denominations. The population percentages which identify with the faith are astoundingly high, sometimes more than 5x the median average in global terms. Although you can find Catholics just about everywhere, there tends to be more in Latin America and Europe than anywhere else in the world. Considering the movement patterns of the global population during the Colonial Era, this transition does make some sense. Add in the melting pot of religions practiced freely in the US and it is understandable to see why there are a large number of Catholics there, but not as an overwhelming percentage of the population.
Catholic Demographics in the United States
- The United States is home to about 7% of all Catholics in the world.
- As of 2010, an estimated 23% of U.S. adults and 24% of the total US population, including children, consider themselves to be Catholic.
- Generation X [35%] and Baby Boomers [34%] make up a majority of the age demographics within the US Catholic church.
- The typical HHI for someone practicing the Catholic faith in the US falls between $60-$75k.
- 18% of Catholic parents reside in households that earn less than $25,000 a year in income, which likely places them at or below the poverty line.
- 1 in 3 Catholic households has an HHI of $85,000 or more.
- 26% of Catholic families have three or more children under the age of 18 in their home.
- Two-thirds of Catholic families own their home. 3% say they reside in a home they do not own or rent.
- 17% of Catholic families have at least one infant residing in their household.
- 67% of families with 3 or more children attend Mass at least 1x per month. For families with 2 or fewer children, that drops to 48%.
- 79% of Catholic parents are married. Just 4% say they are divorced and 3% say that they have never married.
- 44% of the Catholic population has a high school diploma or less.
- 52% of migrants which come to the United States are Catholic. 30% of the current population within the US church is believed to have been born outside the United States.
When looking at the US Catholic demographics, you will find a lot of traditional data. Although current families are having fewer children [the Silents and the Greatest Generation had 5 or more children at the same rate Generation X and Millennials are having 3 or more children], the remaining data is very consistent. All socioeconomic circumstances are represented by the US church, but in general, Catholic families have good jobs, high income levels, but strangely enough, have low overall education levels.
A Growing Population, But Declining Leaderships
- Since 1965, the number of total priests within the Catholic church has declined by more than 21,000 in the US, but only by 5,000 in total from a global perspective.
- In 2015, the number of priestly ordinations were 515, which is comparable to 1995 figures, but down nearly 50% from 1965 ordinations.
- Only 1 in 8 seminarians has a graduate-level education.
- Despite the decline in total priests, the number of global parishes has increased by over 30,000 since 1970.
- More than 49,000 parishes in the world today are without a resident priest. About 3,500 parishes have been entrusted by a bishop to the care of a deacon, religious brother/sister, or other lay person.
- There are currently 32 million students attending Catholic elementary schools in the world today, but only 18 million attending a Catholic secondary school.
- The Catholic church in 2015 registered the lowest number of marriages between two Catholics [2.48 million] than in any other time during the modern era.
- More than 13 million baptisms occurred in 2015, but only 9.2 million confirmations were made.
The challenge of the Catholic church for its leadership is one of reputation. Pope Francis is seen by many as being the exception to the rule instead of the rule itself when it comes to serving people. Many priests, especially in the United States, were busy being abusive toward children in their care instead of washing the feet of those in need. When the global church leadership is increasing, but it is decreasing in the US, this shows that although the Catholic faith is still just as influential as ever, that influence is definitely declining in one of the richest nations on the planet.
The Problem Catholics Face Today
- 6.4% of registered parishioners contribute 80% of the total volunteer hours that occur within each local parish.
- 6.8% of registered parishioners contributed 80% of the total financial contributions that each parish receives on an annual basis.
- The overlap between these two groups: 84%.
- Fewer than 1% of US Catholics attend daily Mass.
What does this mean for the Catholic church? It means that 93% of those who consider themselves to be Catholic are not actively engaged or financially contributing to their local parish. Imagine what could happen if another 1-5% of Catholics became more engaged with their faith and what that could mean for local communities. The problem is that families who aren’t engaged need to have some level of motivation to change their thinking. Otherwise the future of Catholicism will simply be filled with more of the same issues that are being faced today.
The Future From the Catholic Perspective
- Baptisms represented 17% of all births, which is far short of the 21-25% of households with children who identify themselves as being Catholic.
- Child baptisms are up by 23% since 2007, yet the overall number of infant baptisms has been steadily decline year after year.
- 40% of Catholic families say that they study the Bible and pray using the Spanish language.
- Among those families living at or below the poverty line, 45% are unmarried and 40% have three or more children.
- 58% of parents in Catholic households are women, indicating that there is a disproportionate number of households with single mothers.
- 18% of students who regularly attend Catholic school don’t follow the Catholic faith.
- Only 1 in 4 students receives financial aid to help offset the costs of private schooling.
What the data seems to speak of from an overall demographic standpoint is that financial pressures are forcing families into tough choices. Some may be putting off marriage because they simply can’t afford it. This may cause them to delay baptizing their children because of the doctrines the church teaches. Considering the theological consequences from such an action, this places many Catholic families between a rock and a hard place for the foreseeable future. To solve this issue, the Catholic church must reach out, provide resources, low-cost educational opportunities, and make other efforts so that people get the hand up that they need to rise above poverty.
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