Catholic Marriage and Family in the United States

These facts are for 2014 unless otherwise noted.

Catholic Marriages

In 2014, there were 151,364 Catholic marriages registered in the United States.

According to the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS):

  • 53.9% of adult Catholics are currently married, 3.3% are separated, 6.4% are widowed and 27.7% have never married.
  • 8.7% of Catholic adults describe their current marital status as divorced.
  • 20.7% of Catholic adults have experienced divorce at some point in their life.
  • The average age of first marriage for Catholics is 24.

In 2013, according to the Vatican's Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae (ASE):
About 23,302 new petitions for marriage nullity were introduced in the United States. Some 23,591 marriage nullity processes were completed. Among these, a sentence in favor of nullity was found in about 21,079 cases.

A decree of nullity is a sentence by a church court, confirmed by an appellate court, that a putative marriage was not valid from the start because something was lacking: full knowledge and consent by both parties, freedom from force or grave fear, or some other factor needed for a valid marriage.

“Putative” (meaning apparent or seeming) is a key word in the entire process. It refers to a marriage in which at least one party acted in good faith, believing it was valid at the time it took place. Children from a putative marriage are considered legitimate even if the marriage is later ruled to be invalid. This has been a source of one of the major popular misunderstandings of annulments; namely, that an annulment somehow makes the children of that union illegitimate. Church law explicitly rejects this interpretation, saying that children of a putative marriage are legitimate even if the marriage is later judged to be invalid.

Catholic Families  

  • Most Catholic children today are being raised by married Catholic parents.
  • 79% or 8 in 10 Catholic mothers and fathers are married.
  • Fewer than 1% of Catholic parents surveyed are widowed.
  • 76% of married Catholic parents have a Catholic spouse.
  • 3% of parents are single and have never married.
  • 13% of Catholic parents surveyed are single and living with a partner (of the opposite sex).
  • 4% are divorced and 1% are separated.
  • Parents are less likely than the overall Catholic adult population to be single and never married, divorced, or to be widowed.

Mass Attendance among Catholic Parents

  • 22% of Catholic parents attend Mass weekly, compared to 24% of all adult Catholics.
  • 53% of Catholic parents attend Mass at least once a month, compared to 43% of all adult Catholics.
  • 66% of Catholic parents with three or more children are much more likely than those with fewer children (48%) to attend Mass at least once a month.
  • 26% of parents with a teen in the home are more likely to attend Mass weekly than those with an infant (18%).
  • Parents who have separated or divorced or who are single and have never married are among the least likely to attend Mass weekly (15% for both sub-groups).

Sacraments, Religious Education, and Prayer

  • 66% of Catholic parents say that it is “very” important to them that their children celebrate their first communion.
  • 61% indicate the same importance for their children being confirmed. The divide between parents expressing importance and those expressing less importance is frequency of Mass attendance. Fewer than 1 in 5 parents who rarely or never attend Mass consider sacraments for their children to be “very important,” while more than 8 in 10 parents who attend Mass at least once a month feel that First Communion and Confirmation for their children is “very important.”
  • 68% of all Catholic parents do not have any of their children enrolled in formal Catholic religious education.
  • Of the 32% of parents who reported having children enrolled in a parish-based religious education program, 42% are weekly Mass attenders, 27% are monthly attenders, 11% report attending a few times a year and only 4% of those who rarely or never attend Mass.
  • Weekly Mass attenders and Hispanic or Latino parents are among the most likely to believe core Catholic teachings without doubt.
  • 71% of parents agree “somewhat” or “strongly” that prayer is essential to their faith (80% among weekly Mass attenders).
  • 36% of parents pray at least once a day, 23% pray less than daily but at least once a week and 1 in 5 pray less than weekly but at least once a month (20%). 12% pray a few times a year. Only 9% say they rarely or never pray.
  • Reasons why parents may not pray include: busy schedule or lack of time (51% “somewhat” or “very much”), having missed Mass (39%), or that prayer just did not cross their mind (39%).
  • 40% of parents pray in Spanish and 59% in English. 1% pray in some other language (e.g., Polish, Portuguese).
  • 76% of parents say they more often pray by themselves than with family members. 7% of parents say they more often pray with family members than alone and 17% pray alone and with family about equally.
  • Parents are most likely to “always” pray: during times of crisis (42%), when feeling anxious or depressed (34%), when feeling blessed (31%), before bed (26%), during Lent (18%), during Advent (18%), when they wake (13%), before meals (13%), and at family gatherings (10%).
  • Parents are most likely to typically use the following while praying: the Bible (41%), Catholic prayer books (39%), other Catholic publications including prayers (33%).
  • 16% of parents pray the rosary at least once a month (7% at least once a week). Weekly Mass attenders are most likely to pray the rosary at least once a year (68%). Among those who do pray the rosary, half say they typically do so with their family (18% of all Catholic parents).
  • 12% of parents with digital devices have at least one Catholic-related application or “app” that they use regularly. This is equivalent to an estimated 1.6 million parents using a Catholic or faith-related app on one of their digital devices.
  • 14% of parents regularly read or follow at least one Catholic-related blog online. This is equivalent to 2.1 million parents reading or following Catholic or faith-related blogs.
  • Weekly Mass attenders are among the most likely to use a Catholic related app or read a Catholic related blog.