Study examines Catholic families where children became Catholic adults

Catholic families

A study of Catholic families has found just 15 percent of US adults who were raised Catholic remained practising Catholics, attending weekly Mass into adulthood.

That’s the negative news. There’s better news though.

It results from a new study that questions why some Catholics continue to practise their faith and attend weekly Masses. Data from the General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago didn’t cover this.

Researchers at Georgetown University’s CARA conducted the “Future Faithful Families Project” study. CARA is the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life.

The new study

They interviewed 28 people from June 2021 to February 2023. These included qualifying participants from past CARA surveys.

The study found that participants from these Catholic families generally described their households as “warmer and more affectionate than the average family”. Most indicated “very good communication” within the family.

These families also have routines including eating and praying together. Most said faith was a part of their specific family practices.

All emphasised the importance of weekly Mass attendance. Most reported doing service work and giving to charity, generally through their parish or church.

Their faith

wasn’t just something

that they went and did

on Sunday morning;

their faith was present in the household.

It was present every day.

While the findings from these qualitative interviews aren’t a “checklist” of things to keep one’s child Catholic, the study authors say parents could gain insight from common responses.

These show “their faith wasn’t just something that they went and did on Sunday morning; their faith was present in the household. It was present every day. It came out in conversations about the faith, with prayer, with things that are in the home.”

When these children mentioned doubts about their faith, most parents said “Well, let’s see why the church teaches this” rather than avoiding questions about Church teachings.

The study also included an analysis of existing data from the General Social Survey (GSS) as far back as the 1970s.

This showed a marked decline in the number of US adults who were raised and remained Catholic while still attending weekly Mass.

In the 1970s, they accounted for “an average of 36 percent … peaking at 40 percent in 1977”.

GSS data later showed “this … declined to 32 percent in the 1980s, 25 percent in the 1990s and 21 percent in the 2000s. In the 2010s, this averaged 15 percent and was 14 percent in the 2018 study.”

This doesn’t include Catholic converts not raised Catholic. The study notes many Catholics have immigrated to the US.

Among the 51 percent of US “cradle Catholics” who remained so between 2010 and 2018, there were some commonalities.

Among weekly Mass attendees who had remained Catholic, 81 percent were “more likely to have been living with both parents at age 16” compared to the 72 percent who attend Mass less often than weekly or the 63 percent who left the Catholic faith.

The Catholic families the study interviewed noted the importance of children observing their parent being “Catholic every day of the year, not just on Sundays”.

It also found Catholic adults had parents who “listen to their children, have conversations with them and guide them through what the faith teaches and why the faith teaches it.”


  • OSV via Diocese of Scranton
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