Surveys show who may be leaving the Catholic church

A Pew survey earlier this year found that 10 percent of Americans claim to be former Catholics. While Catholics remain at 25 percent of the U.S. population, it is immigration that is keeping the numbers up. Who are the Catholics who are leaving? Are they the critical and disloyal? The data point to a more complex picture.

To pursue this question, let’s begin by a look at Albert Hirschman’s classic book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, which analyzes customer behavior and categorizes it according to two dimensions: critical or noncritical, and loyal or nonloyal.

Noncritical customers don’t demand much and will stay as long as basic needs are met. Critical customers demand more. In either case, if their loyalty is low and they are unsatisfied, they will change to an alternative. Low loyalty makes exit easy. Some sociologists characterize the United States as a religious marketplace where nonloyal members can shop endlessly. For critical members who are loyal, exit becomes more costly.