Saturday, November 07, 2009

Religious affiliation by ethnicity in the United States

++Addition++In the comments, "silly girl" suggests:
Maybe more than 2/3's of those who identify as Native Am. are also more than 2/3's white themselves.

What percentage of people who identify as Native American are actually at least 51% Native American? I don't know but there are incentives for identifying as Native.
Very relevant point. Nearly 5% of GSS respondents self-described their ethnicity as Native American, far higher than the 1% or so of the total US population the Census lists as being Native Americans of only one race. There are probably some people with a Cherokee great grandmother who are telling GSS interviewers they are ethnically Native American. Adds a nice mystical element to one's constitution!

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I'm regularly vexed by my inability to seamlessly rehash empirical data in conversation when I'd assumed it would easily stick as I came upon it for the first time. It's hardly a frustration unique to me, and the conventional explanation that it takes ingesting information three times to internalize it seems to be generally accurate in my experience. Sometimes, though, I am surprised by the inaccuracy of my preconceived notion--which tends to be embarrassing, given how starkly actual data contradicts it--to such an extent that I know without a doubt that a single exposure is sufficient to permanently equip myself with it. Razib's parenthetical remark in a post considering why Catholics are Democrats is the latest instance:
The majority of people of Irish descent today in the United States are Protestant, but I suspect they’re less obviously “Irish” in their cultural markers in part because of their religious break from tradition.
The explanation for why this isn't popularly obvious strikes me as spot on. It describes why I was under the impression that it the split was roughly 60%/40% in Catholicism's favor among those claiming a religious affiliation, with much of the Protestant minority coming from British-controlled northern Ireland (that my maternal grandfather was an Irish Catholic probably had some influence, too). Among those of Irish descent, Catholic church attendance is higher than it is among Protestants (34.6% to 28.8% attending services at least once a week). The variances are minor, but this is in contrast to frequency of attendance among American Catholics and Protestants at large (30.0% to 31.8% weekly or more). Irish Catholics are slightly more pious than their co-religionists in the US are, while Irish Protestants are a bit less so.

As for my errant conception, I had the Catholic/Protestant ratio backwards. It's actually 57%/43% in Protestantism's favor.

The following table shows the Protestant/Catholic/Jewish/unaffiliated breakdown by ethnicity. To balance the desire for contemporary relevance with adequate sample sizes, data are from the last two decades. Sample sizes are at least 100 (okay, technically 98 so that Austrians can be included) for all ethnic groups shown:

ProtestantCatholicJewishNo affiliationOther
African79.75.60.38.65.8
Austrian26.241.713.711.37.1
Canadian (British)44.236.11.314.83.6
Canadian (French)19.371.80.76.61.6
Chinese25.312.30.044.318.1
Czechoslovakian35.047.92.39.85.0
Danish74.09.70.015.11.2
English/Welsh75.09.40.512.52.6
French47.533.71.013.64.2
German63.321.70.711.42.9
Greek24.416.21.111.247.1
Hungarian34.131.316.016.32.3
Irish48.636.20.112.13.0
Italian17.566.60.511.83.6
Mexican16.673.00.07.52.9
Dutch77.78.10.610.03.6
Norwegian72.913.70.011.12.3
Filipino16.178.60.72.62.0
Polish17.462.28.88.92.7
Puerto Rican24.157.20.714.23.8
Russian15.612.947.915.18.5
Scotish70.710.60.214.63.9
Spanish25.756.41.012.74.2
Swedish70.710.90.712.84.9
Swiss75.411.31.110.61.6
Native American70.68.10.013.77.6
Indian22.17.60.013.956.4
"American"74.512.50.89.32.9

In the case of the Chinese, Greek, and Indian, "other" primarily consists of Buddhist, Orthodox, and Hindu (and to a lesser extent Muslim), respectively. Americans largely consist of Appalachian whites (referred to as Ulster-Scots or Scots-Irish) whose ancestors formed the basis of David Hackett Fischer's fourth set of British folkways.

Perusing* the table, I'm relieved to see that only in the case of Irish descent was I way off the mark. I've tended to regard those of Russian descent as Jewish unless they happened to be Eastern Orthodox, but a sizable minority (28.5%) have Protestant or Catholic affiliations.

The size of the Catholic contingent among non-French Canadians (for clarity, I term them British Canadians here rather than using the GSS label "other Canadians") is higher than I expected it to be, though I guess I shouldn't be surprised as nearly half of Canadians are at least nominally Catholic.

Also a bit surprising is that more than two-thirds of Native Americans are Protestants, with fewer than 1 in 20 maintaining adherence to traditional tribalistic beliefs. Aggregating all Protestant denominations under a single heading is an oversimplification, of course, but the Native American affiliation profile is nearly identical to the Swedish one! I would not have expected to be able to say that.

As a Catholic of Indian descent, Bobby Jindal wins the rarity award among politicians with some level of national prominence. He's 1 in nearly 2,000 on these two dimensions, easily beating out other affirmative action GOP big shots Sarah Palin and Michael Steele.

GSS variables used: ETHNIC, RELIG, YEAR(1988-2008), ATTEND

* Pursuant to the correct meaning of the word!

10 comments:

Razib said...

the results for native americans is robust. can check with *american religious identification survey* & such.

Wilbor Simonson said...

I'm skeptical of the methodology used to slot respondents into ethnicities as if they were all first generation immigrants.

My own family tree, insofar as I know it, contains names that sound as if they originated from a variety of countries. I call myself an American, yet none of my relatives have lived in Appalachia.

silly girl said...

"Also a bit surprising is that more than two-thirds of Native Americans are Protestants,"

Maybe more than 2/3's of those who identify as Native Am. are also more than 2/3's white themselves.

What percentage of people who identify as Native American are actually at least 51% Native American? I don't know but there are incentives for identifying as Native.

David said...

Interesting results there.

Audacious Epigone said...

Wilbor,

The geography is just a proximate generalization. When respondents self-describe as "American" rather than "British", "French", or "German", they are counted as such. A plurality of people do this through much of Appalachia and in white areas of the south, but really nowhere else.

Silly girl,

Great point. I should have seen it. Nearly 5% of GSS respondents give Native American as their ancestry, when in reality Native Americans constitute around 1%-1.5% of the US population.

The Undiscovered Jew said...

Very relevant point. Nearly 5% of GSS respondents self-described their ethnicity as Native American, far higher than the 1% or so of the total US population the Census lists as being Native Americans of only one race. There are probably some people with a Cherokee great grandmother who are telling GSS interviewers they are ethnically Native American. Adds a nice mystical element to one's constitution!

Per the 2000 Census, if you exclude Hispanics who are a very admixed group, the second most common mixed race population in the US were those who identified as both white and Native American.

I'm not sure if white-Native American mixed race people have lost the second place slot by now.

Ron Guhname said...

I'm really surprised that so few Americans of Russian descent are Orthodox. (I knew the Jewish part.) Perhaps part of the explanation is that Orthodox churches are only found in cities of, say, at least 200,000 people. With nowhere else to go, they probably gravitate toward Catholicism because it is most similar, or they get recruited into whatever Protestant church. Or they follow the Communist influence and are nothing.

Audacious Epigone said...

Ron,

1 in 6 Russians indicate no religious affiliation, a little higher than other European groups. That doesn't mean they're necessarily they're atheists or agnostics, of course.

Atheist By Choice said...

Ron,

Why do you religionists have this need to believe that non-believers were brainwashed into their
nonbelief? Considering the fact that they left Russia, what makes you think that they are so keen to
follow the presumed Communist
influence? Since they live in
America now, one could just as
easily argue that they are following the American influence
by joining a church. In fact,
judging by the data, there is more
evidence if this phenomenon than
the one you mention. Furthermore,
since this category is based on
ancestry, it stands to reason that
some of their ancestors actually
emigrated before the Communist
Revolution took place.

Ron Guhname said...

I said "influence"--a neutral word--not brainwashing. I used to be an atheist and understand them.