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The Center Doesn't Hold: Church Attendance in the United States, 1940-1984

Michael Hout and Andrew M. Greeley
American Sociological Review
Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jun., 1987), pp. 325-345
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095353
Page Count: 21
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The Center Doesn't Hold: Church Attendance in the United States, 1940-1984
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Abstract

Theories about the secularization of society notwithstanding, basic indicators of participation in organized religion show little change over the 50 years covered by the survey research record. Among Protestants, we find that 1950 was a point of low attendance with no prior or subsequent deviation from an average of 40 percent weekly attendance. Among Catholics, attendance rates fell rapidly between 1968 and 1975 but not before or after. Since there are few other trends in the data, we focus on this period of falling attendance among Catholics. The key to falling attendance was the conjuncture of vocal defense of traditional sexual teaching by the Pope and other leaders in the face of rapidly growing opposition to that position among the church-going population. Many Catholics who disagreed with Church teachings on sexuality reduced their attendance (very few actually left the Church). Among active Catholics, opposition to the hierarchy continues to grow, but there has been no decline in attendance rates since 1975. From a latent variable analysis, we conclude that loyalty to the community and communal values is the factor that separates the active from the lapsed Catholics in the 1980s.

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