Review of Religious Research

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 555–574 | Cite as

Understanding the Rise of Born-Again Catholics in the United States: The Role of Educational Attainment

  • Samuel L. Perry
  • Cyrus Schleifer
Research Note


Having a “born-again” experience has historically been a marker of sectarian or evangelical Protestantism. Yet the percentage of American Catholics reporting a born-again experience has nearly doubled in the past few decades—from 14% in 2004 to 27% in 2016—a much faster increase than that of evangelicals or any other religious group. How do we explain the disproportionate rise of born-again Catholics? Drawing on data from the 2004–2016 waves of the General Social Survey, this research note tests four potential mechanisms: (1) evangelicals converting to Catholicism; (2) born-again Catholics immigrating to the US; (3) evangelical-to-Catholic diffusion due to growing conservative-political alliances; and (4) having a born-again experience (both an indicator of sectarian religious piety and loose affiliation with more standard Catholic self-perceptions) is becoming more common among Catholics with less formal education. After testing alternative explanations, we show that reporting a born-again experience has increased almost solely among Catholics without a college degree. This suggests that the born-again experience is increasing primarily among those Catholics who tend to be more marginalized within society at large (potentially making sectarian religious experiences like being “born-again” more attractive) and less versed in more mainstream identity-markers of their own religious tradition.


Catholicism Born-again Evangelical Trends 


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Copyright information

© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OklahomaNormanUSA

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