Monday, December 21, 2009

Stats on Parade

The Gallup Poll published the following statistics which show the percentage of Catholics in a sample taken at ten-year increments in the -5 year of each decade who claimed to have attended mass in that particular week previous to the poll.  This is thought to estimate something called "regular church attendance," although it really only tracks attendance in particular weeks.  Whether those weeks are typical or not may depend on whether there was a big snowstorm or that the person was traveling or something.  But let us take the data "as given."  

Now the interesting thing to notice is that the big drop occurred after Vatican II, when the Church tried to change a variety of liturgical practices to make herself "more relevant" to young people.  This included such relevant things as bad music.  The 20-somethings were dropping off even beforehand, but notice that the other age groups (except for the 60+-ers) also show a marked drop-off after the switch to bad music and other novelties. 

Or does it?  Maybe so.  But obscured in this presentation is that the 20-somethings of 1965 are not the 20-somethings of 1975.  They are the 30-somethings of 1975.  If you follow the age-cohort as you go through each decade, the percentages actually don't vary much. 

Twenty-somethings who rarely attend mature into 30-somethings who attend more often, and then seldom vary by much as they age.  E.g. 35% of the 20-somethings of 1975 attended mass in the previous week.  Ten years later, that same cohort, now 30-something, had about a 55% attendance, eyeballing the chart.  And this percentage was pretty much the same for the 40-somethings of 1995 and the 50-somethings of 2005.

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