Religion Survey Holds Surprises: Catholic Blacks Graduate, Big Churches Boom

Article excerpt

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In the United States today black Catholics are more educated than other blacks and white Protestants, "mega-churches" are in among baby boomers, most Catholics live in the Northeast and most Irish-Americans are Protestant, not Catholic.

These observations and perhaps all you ever wanted to know about the social impact and importance of religion in America can be found in the new book, One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society. In it, the authors, Barry A. Kosmin and Seymour P. Lachman, report and analyze the findings of the most extensive study ever conducted of American religious identification.

The data was attained through a computer-generated telephone survey of 113,000 Americans in 1990. The National Survey of Religious Identification, NSRI, was conducted by the Graduate School of the City of New York, where Lachman is dean for community development and Kosmin is a sociologist at the university's graduate center.

The study offers unique insight into America's religious scene. It includes, for instance, religious profiles of ethnic groups and the geographical distributions of religions in this country. It even ranks religions based on education, income, home ownership and employment.

One finding of particular note is on the subject of black Catholic educational achievement. The survey showed that more black Catholics are graduates of high school and college than other blacks. Black Catholics are "roughly equal- in educational attainment to other Catholics and greater than the overall American average regardless of race.

It appears that black Catholics are 40 percent more likely to graduate from college than other black Americans. In the 40- to 50-year age group, 26 percent of black Catholics, 25 percent of white Catholics, 24 percent of all whites and 15 percent of all blacks are college graduates," authors note. "Though we have no quotable statistics, analysis of parochial school enrollment figures by race suggests that a majority of black Catholics attended parochial schools."

On another topic, the study confirms the existence of "homogeneous religious subcultures" in the United States and their persistence throughout the last century. The authors said, Though.the geographical unity of Colonial times could not be maintained as evangelists persuaded, colonies united, immigrants arrived, frontiers expanded and pioneers migrated, distinctive heartlands still persist, especially for four religious families: Baptists in the South, Lutherans in the Upper Midwest farm belt, Roman Catholics in the Northeast, and Mormons in Utah and the other Rocky Mountain states.

"To some extent this finding belies conventional wisdom, which suggests that American society as a whole has become more socially uniform and thereby religiously integrated under the influence of a pervasive mass culture and high mobility."

Although Catholics are present in significant numbers in 48 states, the survey revealed, 55 percent of them reside in the Northeast and Midwest. A unique exception in this analysis of Catholicism's heartland is Louisiana (46.8 percent Catholics and 29.2 Baptists). The southern half of the state has the highest percentage of Catholics and the lowest percentage of unchurched in any region of the United States, according to the survey.

Some of the survey's findings may come as a surprise to many. The following are among the discoveries:

The majority of Americans (86. …