The Catholic University of America

 Christopher Born Defense

Final Examination of Christopher James Born

For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

April 18, 2011 at 10:00 a.m., Caldwell Room 125



William D. Dinges, Ph.D.


Post-retirement Religiosity among Migrating Northern Catholic Baby Boomers

In the United States Baby Boomers constitute a “lead cohort” due to their sheer size and influence on cultural, religious, and spiritual trends.  As Boomers matriculate through the life-cycle, their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors will likely continue to alter the national religious landscape.  There is, however, no explicit research as to how this generation influences the religious scene as they leave the workforce, especially those who migrate to moderate climates throughout the United States and reestablish their faith in a new location.  In order to gain insight into the Boomer’s changing religious practices, this dissertation isolates a single denomination (Roman Catholic), an age/situation specific cohort (retiring Baby Boomers), and unidirectional regional migration (north-to-south) to understand fluctuations in religious commitment.  The dissertation focuses exclusively on the Diocese of Raleigh, NC where north-to-south migration undergirds the explosive growth of its Catholic population although Catholics still constitute a small minority of religious adherents in the region. 

The study combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies to gauge effects of migration, recently acquired minority status, and life-cycle changes on Catholic Boomer’s religious commitment in the Diocese of Raleigh.  Surveys were distributed to Catholics across six parishes in three distinct retiree-heavy regions.  A subset of Baby Boomers were also interviewed about their experiences of Catholicism in the South.   

Empirical results demonstrate increasing religious commitment among recent Catholic migrants; however, differences emerge between Boomers and other generational cohort-groups.  Additionally, the impetus behind fluctuations in religiosity varies depending on the survey measure.  Binomial logistic regression shows minority status has a direct, positive effect on bible reading and an inverse effect on Mass attendance.  For Baby Boomers, the number of parish friends is the most powerful predictor of heightened religious commitment.  Qualitative data supplement these findings.

A more intense religious environment across all faiths in the region also has a positive impact on the religious commitment of incoming Catholics.  The spillover effect is most apparent in changes reported in the frequency of bible reading and Mass attendance.  As Catholics who migrated to the region increased their religious commitment, they influenced the most recent migrants to follow suit.