Population of sisters

Screenshot of interactive map from The Washington Post showing the numbers of Catholics around the world and whether they are growing, shrinking or staying the same.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate recently released a preview of its upcoming special report Population Trends Among Religious Institutes of Women along with re-analysis of data from a 2012 report on never-married Catholics. The preview confirmed what most people already know about women’s religious congregations, namely that they are increasingly small and older.

But CARA’s quantification also put this data into a sharper context: “If the most pressing trends continue . . . there would be fewer than 1,000 religious sisters in the United States in 2043.” The preview also noted:

  • With 99,330 sisters, India has more women religious than another country in the world. The Italy and the United States rounded out the top three with 86,431 and 53,205 sisters respectively. The Netherlands ranked last with 5,669.
  • Asia and Africa are the continents showing the most growth in the number of women religious. Between 2002 and 2012, those continents saw a net increase of 39,420. Meanwhile, the Americas, Europe and Oceania had a net loss of 119,823.
  • Most young, never-married women are not interested in religious life. When asked, 91 percent of never-married Catholic women between the ages of 14 and 30 said they had never considered religious life, citing among the top reasons: the desire to have children, not wanting to take a vow of celibacy, and the general lifestyle and work of sisters.

In India, there is one woman religious for every 199 Catholics. By comparison, in the United States, there is on sister for every 1,338 Catholics. This 2013 map from The Washington Post shows the global concentration of the Catholic population.

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