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Posted February 21, 2005

The Latest Statistics on Young Catholic Adults

1. Young adult Catholics do not differ significantly from older Catholics in basic theological beliefs, and they appear to be as committed to being identified as Catholic as do older Catholics

1.1 Within the area of religiosity, however, younger Catholics were more individualistic, less likely to engage in traditional religious practices, and less likely than older Catholics to say that they would not leave the Church.

2. Although not regarding themselves as liberal Catholics, young adult Catholics are more likely than older Catholics to disagree with official Church teaching on issues such as birth control, abortion, stem cell research, and homosexuality.

3. Regarding support for the war in Iraq in light of “just war” criteria, results were mixed. Younger Catholics expressed somewhat softer support for the war in Iraq when considering prospects for success or the number of American casualties.

4. A clear majority of all age groups opposed the use of embryonic stem cell for medical purposes. Younger Catholics, however, were more likely than older Catholics to support the use of adult stem cells and to embrace the potential benefits of the use of stem cells in medical treatment.

5. Although all age groups among American Catholics disapproved of sacramental marriage for same-sex couples, younger Catholics were much more likely than older Catholics to approve of civil marriage or civil union status for same-sex couples. Younger Catholics were also more likely to disagree with official Church teaching on homosexuality as being contrary to natural law and on the duty of all Catholics, especially Catholic officials, to oppose legalizing same-sex unions.

6. Although a clear majority of all Catholics support greater democratization in Church decision making, the youngest age group, contrary to our expectations, was less likely to support such reform.

7. When asked about their approval of the U.S. bishops in leading the American Catholic Church, older Catholics, contrary to our expectations, expressed somewhat greater disapproval than did the two youngest age groups 18-39.

8. Younger Catholics, as expected, follow the activities of the pope much less than do older Catholics. Nevertheless, except for issues on which they are more liberal than older Catholics (e.g., abortion, human cloning), younger Catholics are surprisingly less critical than older Catholics of the pope’s leadership. For example, younger Catholics give the pope higher marks than do older Catholics for his understanding of the American Church and for his attempts to improve the status of women in the Church.

9. In response to the sex abuse scandal, younger Catholics, as expected, were somewhat less aware of specific policies adopted by the U.S. bishops and the Vatican, but younger Catholics were surprisingly less critical than were older Catholics of specific steps taken by the American bishops to deal with the scandal.

10. In all of the above findings, some differences appeared when our analysis controlled for gender, education, and ethnicity. Nevertheless, such differences did not cancel or mitigate the strong age effects in the expected direction or in directions contrary to our hypothesis. In other words, consideration of the effects of gender, education, and ethnicity generally allows for greater nuance in interpretation.