9 facts about Catholics in the U.S., according to Pew research

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The Pew Research Center released a new fact sheet Friday that contains nine demographic and statistical facts about the Catholic population in the United States, based on the center’s numerous surveys. 

Here are Pew’s nine facts about Catholics in the United States.

  1. Twenty percent of American adults identify as Catholics — a stable number for the past 10 years. 

Out of 262 million adults in the U.S., about 52 million would say they’re Catholic, Pew reports. In 2007, 24% of U.S. adults said they were Catholic. 

  1. A third of all U.S. Catholics are Hispanic. 

The Catholic population is 57% white, 33% Hispanic, 4% Asian, and 2% Black, while 3% are of another race, Pew reported.

  1. Catholics tend to be older than Americans overall, but Hispanic Catholics trend younger. 

While more than half of U.S. Catholic adults overall are aged 50 or older, Hispanic Catholics break that mold. Fewer than half of Hispanic Catholics (43%) are 50 and older, and just 14% of Hispanic Catholics are ages 65 and older, versus 38% of white Catholics.

  1. Roughly 3 in 10 U.S. Catholics (29%) live in the South, while 26% live in the Northeast, 24% in the West and 21% in the Midwest.

Data cited by Pew, and other data previously covered by CNA, show that Catholicism is growing fastest in the South and West, even as it declines in the Midwest and the historically Catholic Northeast. 

The racial and ethnic profile of the Catholic population varies considerably by region, Pew notes. For example, in the Midwest, 80% of Catholics are white and 17% are Hispanic. In the Northeast, 72% of Catholics are white and 19% are Hispanic.

In the South, 49% are white and 40% are Hispanic. And in the West, there are more Hispanic Catholics than white Catholics (55% vs. 30%), Pew says. 

  1. About a third of U.S. Catholics (32%) have a bachelor’s degree.

Another 28% have some college experience but not a bachelor’s degree, and 40% have a high school education or less — a distribution similar to that of the general adult population.

  1. Just 3 in 10 U.S. Catholics (28%) say they attend Mass weekly or more often.

Pew compared this figure with the share of Protestants who attend weekly services, which they say is 40%. 

Larger shares of Catholics say they pray daily (52%) and say religion is very important in their life (46%), Pew says. Overall, 20% of U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass weekly and pray daily and consider religion very important in their life.

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By contrast, 10% of self-identified Catholics say they attend Mass a few times a year or less often, pray seldom or never, and consider religion “not too” or “not at all” important in their life.

  1. About half of Catholic registered voters (52%) identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, while 44% affiliate with the Democratic Party.

Other data has shown that the “Catholic electorate” is fairly evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic parties, while also suggesting that a substantial number of Catholics don’t identify with a party at all. 

  1. About 6 in 10 U.S. Catholics say abortion should be legal, in contrast to the Church’s teaching. 

This includes 39% who say it should be legal in most cases and 22% who say it should be legal in all cases, Pew says. 

A key factor, Pew says, is that Catholics’ opinions about abortion tend to align more with their political leanings than with the teachings of their Church. Among Catholic Democrats, 78% say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Among Catholic Republicans, 43% say this.

  1. Three-quarters of Catholics in the U.S. view Pope Francis favorably, though that figure has dipped by 8% since 2021. 

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Francis’ approval rating among U.S. Catholics reached 90% in Pew’s 2015 survey. By September 2018 — at a time when the entire Church was reeling from fresh scandals related to sexual abuse — the pope’s approval rating stood at just 72%, the lowest of his papacy. It had ticked back up to 83% three years later, before its latest dip to 75% in February of this year.

Pope Francis’ late predecessor Benedict XVI initially had a low approval rating of 67% among U.S. Catholics upon taking office in 2005. By 2008, however, his approval rating had reached 83%, and he closed out his papacy at 74%, in 2013.

Neither Benedict nor Francis has yet achieved the lofty heights set by the saintly Pope John Paul II, who in 1990 and 1996 garnered approval from 93% of U.S. Catholics, according to Pew’s data.

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