Catholic religious vocations: Decline and revival

Rodney Stark, Roger Finke

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60 Scopus citations


This essay attempts to explain the dramatic, recent decline in Catholic vocations - in the number of persons becoming priests, nuns, or monks. Appropriate data force rejection of gender-based explanations, such as increased secular career opportunities for women. Cross-national data show that the declines began in Europe and North America immediately following actions taken at Vatican II which greatly reduced the rewards of the religious life while maintaining the high costs of vocations (including celibacy, obedience, and poverty). That the declines in vocations were long delayed in Portugal and Spain (as well as in less developed nations) adds credibility to our proposed explanation that young Catholics became far less likely to take up the religious life because they recognized that vocations now entailed a negative cost/benefit ratio. Seeking stronger confirmation of this explanation, we propose that vocations will continue to flourish to the extent that a positive cost/benefit ratio has been retained or restored. A positive ratio can be achieved by reduced costs or by restoration of benefits. The former has not occurred, but in some orders and dioceses, a return to tradition has led many young Catholics to once again find the religious life attractive, as is demonstrated by data on ordinations and on the growth of religious orders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-145
Number of pages21
JournalReview of Religious Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies
  • Philosophy


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