Family Values of Catholics and Protestants

by George H. Gallup Jr.
Senior Staff Writer

An article in last week's Tuesday Briefing examined the influence of religion for both Catholic and Protestant teens (see The Influence of Religion: Protestant vs. Catholic Teens.) A further examination of the views of Catholic teens -- as well as those of Catholic adults -- on issues related to sex, morals and marriage shatters the stereotype of Catholics as being more "conservative" or "traditional" on such matters.

A 2000 Gallup Youth Survey* shows that Catholic teens are far more likely than their Protestant counterparts to express approval of marriage between homosexuals, by a margin of 60% to 36%.

Catholic teens are less likely than Protestant teens to say it is morally wrong to have sex before marriage -- 37% of Catholic teens hold this view compared to 49% of Protestant teens. Catholic teens are also less likely to say it is morally wrong to live together before marriage than are Protestant teens, 26% to 34%.

Finally, 52% of Catholic teens think it is morally wrong for a couple to have a baby before marriage, compared to 62% of Protestant teens who think so.

The relatively liberal views of Catholic teens today reflect the attitudes of their elders. A Gallup survey of adults** aged 18 and older shows that a far higher percentage of Catholic adults (47%) than Protestant adults (29%) express the belief that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable. On the issue of sex between an unmarried man and woman, a larger percentage of Catholic adults (54%) say this is morally acceptable than Protestant adults (43%).

Catholic and Protestant adults, however, are in total agreement when it comes to married men and women having an affair: Ninety-one percent (91%) of Catholics and 92% of Protestants say such behavior is morally unacceptable.

*Findings for teens are based on telephone interviews with a representative national sample of 501 teen-agers, aged 13 to 17, conducted December 2000 through February 2001. For this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5%.

**Findings for adults are based on telephone interviews with a representative national sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 10-14, 2001. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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