Researching Young Adult Catholics

Here’s the title of an October 2008 National Catholic Reporter article: “Young Catholics more progressive than older ones, poll finds.”  Despite my general hesitancy with reports claiming to explain the perspectives of young Catholics, when I saw the headline, I couldn’t help my first reaction: finally!! Yes!!  Finally!!


Here’s the nuts and bolts:  Public Religion Research surveyed just over 1200 Catholics between the ages of 18 and 34—the total study is somewhat cheesily called “The Young & the Faithful.”  I haven’t read the full report yet; I look forward to it.

I’ve gotten tired of the sort of weathered stereotype that young Catholics are increasingly more conservative than our Vatican II counter-parts, shaped by a tendency to read the Catechism the way Protestant Evanglicals read the Bible.  I am tired of being lumped as a group of apathetic kids who wouldn’t know a genuflect from a deep knee bend. I am relieved to have another perspective coming to light.  Thank you, NCR.


I know, I know there are so many reasons talking about a conservative/liberal divide is extremely unhealthy when it comes to dialogue in the Church.


But take this nugget away: ‘”This is not the culture war generation,’ said Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research, in drawing a broad conclusion from the study during a conference call. ‘From gay rights to the role of Americans around the world to working for the common good,’ the young people surveyed represent a group that ‘kind of works past the ideological divides’ that have characterized the political debate of recent years.”


This is super-hopeful to me!  If we, as a generation, really are able to move away from ideological divides, shed ourselves of the culture wars, we really can change this country.  There is a lot of hope for me in this!  


4 thoughts on “Researching Young Adult Catholics

  1. I’d really like to see the data and methodology on this. Tons of people self-identify as Catholic, but haven’t been to Church in decades, let alone living it out. I’d like to see the correlation between regularly attending young Catholics and their political/ civic preferences. I have a feeling the results would be a lot different. My anecdotal experience accross the country (and world) is the opposite of what this study finds.

  2. I just love how some Catholics love to use the “But who is really a Catholic?” question to their advantage when they want to support their own point. At World Youth Day, Pope Benedict proudly proclaimed that 1/6 of the world’s population is Catholic, and no one asked him “But are they REALLY Catholic?” Archdioceses around the country count their populations by who is registered in a parish, and since most parishes never take people off of their parishioner rolls unless specifically asked to do so, there are a huge numbers of less involved Catholics. If we are going to throw out the evidenced based research for “anecdotal experience,” by experience as a young adult employed by the Church is that this study is absolutely correct and young adults tend to be more progressive Catholics in all areas of Church teaching.

    I unquestionably agree with Kate that this study, particularly the break in
    convention among Millennials to move past ideology, is very hopeful for the future of society and our Church.

  3. What a fascinating study. I agree that it’s hopeful over all, not only showing more progressiveness in younger Catholics, but in younger Christians across other denominations as well. It only makes sense as far as I’m concerned; as time goes on, ideas and people ought to progress.

    I also wouldn’t dismiss the results of this survey based on whether those surveyed “only” self-identify as Catholic. As far as I’m concerned, self-identification is THE most important identification. No one else has the right to tell anyone whether they’re “really” Catholic based on outward appearances or measurements alone because no one else sees into that person’s heart. The argument that folks who self-identify as Catholic aren’t “really” Catholic if they don’t do/believe a, b, c holds about as much water as the argument that someone isn’t “really” gay if they haven’t ever dated a same-sex partner. It’s about identity in the end, and no one has a right to choose your identification except you. So “self-identification” is the most valid criteria to me.

  4. I agree it makes a big difference who these Catholics are, if they simply self identify as Catholics and have no involvement with the Church then its doubtful they will have an impact. There is no problem with Catholics being progressive in areas of Church teaching, there are many views that are legitimate within the Church. However there are serious problems with “Catholics” trying to justify their own views as part of Catholic teaching. Thanks to Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Biden, US Bishops seem to have found their backbones and perhaps the era of anything goes is coming to an end.

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