Revisiting Catholicism in Asia

In a recent post I shared some of the recent statistics reported by the New York Times regarding the change in the Catholic population around the world. Through the friendly comments I received from Dr. Conrad Hackett of the Pew Research Center and a couple other sociologists, I learned that Pew has their own statistics on the global Catholic population. This got to me as I discovered that the numbers I used to create my graphs were largely taken from the New York Times article, which I learned do not rely on the Pew numbers. So how different are they and what does that tell us?

By sheer population size Filipinos dominate, and the NYT and Pew numbers confirm this even though they vary by up to 4 million. The rates for Japanese and Vietnamese Catholics is also fairly similar. The big differences where the NYT shows the higher estimate are China (15 million vs. 9 million from the Pew data), and India (19 million vs. 10.6 million). Pew estimates a higher percentage of Korean Catholics (5 million vs. 1.4 million from the NYT data). What this suggests then is that using the Pew data, Korean and Vietnamese Catholic populations are essentially equal in size whereas the NYT data suggests that Korean Catholics are the smaller sibling to their Vietnamese brethren. And if the nationality of an Asian Pope were chosen based on population, the Pew data suggests that (besides the Philippines of course) it would be a toss-up between China and India, followed by a toss-up between Korea and Vietnam. Based on the NYT data, the Asian Pope would likely originate from the Philippines, followed by India, then China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan.

While knowing the raw estimates is interesting, the reference point for those estimates illuminates different impressions. What do we learn when we take the estimates of the Catholic population in each nation relative to that nation’s overall population. In other words, how Catholic are some of these countries in Asian? As a percentage of Catholics per nation, clearly Filipinos dominate as usual, no surprises there. The big difference is between Vietnam and South Korea: based on the NYT data, Vietnam has the higher percentage of its population Catholic at 6%. This is slightly lower than the Pew estimate. But Pew’s figure for Korean Catholics is way higher than the NYT figures (11% vs. 3% of the population) and thus takes the (distant) second place position. To learn more about the proportion of Catholics in different Asian countries, go to this link to a cool interactive map of Christianity in Asia.

Finally, rather than calculating the percentage of Catholics in a nation, the raw estimate of the population of Catholics can be used to compare it with all Catholics in the Asia Pacific region. I illustrated this using the NYT data in the previous post, and I now show it side-by-side with the Pew version. I thought this was interesting to observe because the number of Catholics per nation tells us different things based on our reference point. The 76 million Filipino Catholics (according to the Pew data) make up 81% of all Filipinos, but only 58% of all Asian Catholics. It’s still clearly the lion’s share and it’s particularly notable given that when we’re talking about all Catholics in Asia, we’re including millions of believers from China and India. Despite being a much less populous nation than these two giants, Filipino Catholics are still the majority. The Filipino percentage of Asian Catholics is a bit smaller using the NYT data, at 53%. The rank ordering is pretty much the same for China, India, and Japan’s Catholics (second, third and sixth place respectively). The difference between the two figures shows up most for the Korean and Vietnamese Catholics. Pew again suggests that the share of all Asian Catholics that are from these two countries is about the same (4% for Korea and 4.3% for Vietnam), while the NYT data places Vietnamese Catholics as clearly a larger presence among Asian Catholics (6% vs. 3% for Korean Catholics).

While the big picture hasn’t changed, new sources of data allow us to get a fuller picture of the growing presence of Catholicism in Asia. The quality difference in that data might shift the picture to some degree, but given the fairly close approximations on most of the figures from the NYT and Pew, these appear to be relatively reliable. The consistency of Pew’s track record in getting the best data (oftentimes collecting it themselves which is no small feat) has me leaning more in favor of their sources rather than the NYT. Other observations welcome!

 

Most Mainline or Most Evangelical? Miscounts and Religious County Membership

In the race to produce relevant researched stories it’s important to know that error sometimes occurs that can radically alter what we know. A few months ago when I saw an announcement that the Association of Religion Data Archives had county-level information on religion, I of course wanted to know the spread for the area I live: McLennan County, TX. What I wanted to figure out was how evangelical was this city, as it seems that most everyone I run into seems to have faith of some sort.  Is this place the most evangelical in the US?

So when I saw this chart, I was really floored. The largest religious tradition in McLennan County was mainline Protestantism- really?

Screenshot from 07/17/12 at ARDA

So since my sociologist’s intuition signaled something might be amiss, I called the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies and had a good conversation with Rich Houseal of the Religious Congregations and Membership Study, the folks who have given us the 2010 US Religion Census. These are the folks that help us to see the general spread of religious adherence through maps and extensive tables. They work very hard at getting the most accurate count of religious groups around the country. In order to do this they essentially reach out to actual religious leaders and ask them for help by volunteering any records they may have of the number of attenders on a typical week or service. Many leaders and organizations share their figures, and some don’t.

As it turns out I was mostly right that there was indeed a weird miscount of the mainline denominations in McLennan County. In the edited changes that are reported in this document nine counties had the wrong figures, and two were in Texas. McLennan County seems to have the largest range of denominations that fit the 236 religious bodies that reported numbers to ASARB. But the miscount affected one religious tradition, and sure enough, it was Mainline Protestantism, specifically the United Methodist Church. If the original report was 109,901 in the Mainline and the figure drops to 22,333, and the only figure that changes is the United Methodists, there was a miscount of 87,568 of Mainliners or United Methodists in this county. So all of a sudden it becomes clear that the Mainline is way smaller than their Evangelical counterparts, as you can see in this screenshot below.

Screenshot taken 8/3/12 from ARDA

However, the Evangelical Protestant number doesn’t change. Where did these 87,000 adherents go? They fall into a category called “unclaimed.” Unclaimed refers to adherents that did not belong to the 236 religious bodies that are recorded by ASARB in a given county.  This could mean for example that there are a lot of independent churches in Waco that have no major denomination and are reasonably small that they don’t bother keeping count nor are all that helpful to those that want to know. In the specific case of the largest historically African-American denominations, they have also not divulged their numbers. So “unclaimed’ could refer to this combination of groups that didn’t respond to ASARB.

So does this mean McLennan County is the most evangelical county? Can’t quite tell, but it’s certainly not the most Mainline.

 

Good News and Bad News in Marriage and Divorce Statistics

The subject of marriage is on many minds lately, not the least of which are journalists and the POTUS. I love nothing more than to sit in front of pages of population estimates by state or country, over time, and discern the stories in the numbers. Since you the reader probably aren’t likely in a position to be—or worse, have no interest in—indulging such an interest, I’ll save you the work and report some interesting factoids here. No politics from this quarter today, just numbers. Here are a few things I learned:

First, the sheer number of new marriages (i.e., weddings) has generally been decreasing, even while the population of the US continues to increase. For example, in the year 2000 there were 2.32 million new marriages in a population of 281 million persons. In 2010, however, there were 2.1 million new marriages, despite a growing population of 309 million persons.

Ergo, marriage is in retreat (and more so among the poor and working class, as data noted below will suggest), a slight uptick in 2010 notwithstanding.

Second, there has been change in the marriage-to-divorce ratio nationally. This is the statistic that most people (incorrectly) use when they state that “half of all marriages end in divorce.” The ratio has commonly hovered around 2-to-1 since no-fault divorce became a reality. (Before that, it was about 4-to-1 from 1950 to just before 1970.) In other words, this means for every two new marriages recorded in a given year, there is one divorce.

But that ratio has exhibited some change recently. In 2010, the ratio stood at 1.89-to-1, compared to 2.05-to-1 in 2000. Not a radical shift, but a notable one. The action is largely on the marriage side of the equation: the marriage rate has dropped 17 percent in 10 years, while the divorce rate has dropped 10 percent. The two tend to rise and fall together, but clearly not tightly so. People are being more selective about marrying, likely, and as a result there are fewer divorces.

Third, some states exhibit dramatically different stories here. The marriage rate in Mississippi has dropped 48 percent in 20 years (from 1990 to 2010), while their divorce rate has dropped 22 percent. Their ratio of new marriages to divorce is now 1.14-to-1, meaning that if you were going to go ahead and misinterpret that statistic the old-fashioned way, you’d say something like 88 percent of all marriages in Mississippi will end in divorce. Of course we don’t know the future, and any given year’s new marriages aren’t often also reflected as divorces that year—Hollywood goofballs notwithstanding—but the ratio tells us that there are nearly
as many divorces in Mississippi now as there are marriages. Not good.

So which state has the best ratio? Which means (to me at least) the most marriages relative to divorces…the blessed state of my birth: Iowa, where 2.9 new marriages were registered in 2010 for every one divorce. Sociologist Maria Kefalas wrote about Iowa as having many “marriage naturalists,” and it appears so. Even though I’ve been gone from the place since I was 13, cultural traces remain, no doubt.

I should admit that there is one state that artificially has a better ratio than Iowa, but let’s not be serious about counting it as best. It’s Nevada, whose whopper 38.3 marriage rate is so far out of step with the rest of the country, due to its marriage industry. But whereas many wealthy and unhappily-married Easterners used to flock to Nevada for its tolerant divorce laws, that’s no longer necessary. But it remains a marriage factory…for now. But look at this: its 38.3 rate is a fraction of what it was in 2000 (72.2) and before that, in 1990 (99.0). I’m sure that’s not lost on the wedding industry. Times are tough for Elvis impersonators, I suspect.

Indeed, only in Hawaii do we see a marriage rate that has not lost ground since 1990. (I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has to do with a rise in “destination weddings,” since Hawaii’s elevated marriage rate—17.6—is second only to Nevada’s.). A few other states whose marriage rates haven’t dipped nearly so much as, say, Mississippi’s 48 percent plunge: West Virginia (7% dip, from 7.2 to 6.7), North Dakota (13% dip, from 7.5 in 1990 to 6.5 in 2010), and Vermont (15%, from 10.9 to 9.3).

And in the end, the reliable conclusion tends to remain true: states that exhibit lower divorce rates tend to exhibit lower marriage rates as well, signaling elevated inclination toward cohabitation as a longer-term relationship strategy.

p.s. Note to marrying couples: only you like the idea of a destination wedding. Seldom does anyone else in your orbit feel like spending loads of cash to fly someplace exotic to watch you tie the knot and chat for three minutes. Get married where you live.


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