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Among U.S. Latinos, Catholicism Continues to Decline but Is Still the Largest Faith

Do you notice the "tribe" is conspicuously absent in this story?


Among U.S. Latinos, Catholicism Continues to Decline but Is Still the Largest Faith

Share of Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated continues to grow

BY JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD, JOSHUA ALVARADO AND BESHEER MOHAMED, PEW RESEARCH


Catholics remain the largest religious group among Latinos in the United States, even as their share among Latino adults has steadily declined over the past decade, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center surveys. By contrast, the share of Latinos who identify as Protestants – including evangelical Protestants – has been relatively stable, while the percentage who are religiously unaffiliated has grown substantially over the same period.


As of 2022, 43% of Hispanic adults identify as Catholic, down from 67% in 2010. Even so, Latinos remain about twice as likely as U.S. adults overall to identify as Catholic, and considerably less likely to be Protestant. Meanwhile, the share of Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated (describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”) now stands at 30%, up from 10% in 2010 and from 18% a decade ago in 2013. The share of Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated is on par with U.S. adults overall.



The demographic forces shaping the nation’s Latino population also have impacted religious affiliation trends. Young people born in the U.S. – not immigrants – have driven Latino population growth since the 2000s. Among U.S. Latinos ages 18 to 29, 79% were born in the United States.1 About half (49%) of Latinos in this age group now identify as religiously unaffiliated. By contrast, only about one-in-five Latinos ages 50 and older are unaffiliated; most of these older Latinos (56%) were born outside the U.S.2 Overall, 52% of Latino immigrants identify as Catholic and 21% are unaffiliated. U.S.-born Latinos are less likely to be Catholic (36%) and more likely to be unaffiliated (39%), according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of Latino adults.



Protestants are the second-largest faith group after Catholics, accounting for 21% of Hispanic adults, a share that has been relatively stable since 2010. During this time, Hispanic Protestants consistently have been more likely to identify as evangelical or born again than to say they are not born again or evangelical.


As of 2022, 15% of Latinos are evangelical Protestants, a share that has remained relatively stable over the past decade. Latino evangelicals have received national attention recently due to the political activism of some evangelical churches. The interest in Latino evangelicals comes as White evangelicals have become a bulwark of support for Republican candidates in U.S. presidential elections, and after elections in which a rising share of Latino voters have supported Republican candidates.


About three-in-ten Hispanic Republicans (28%) identify as evangelical Protestants, a far higher share than the 10% of Hispanic Democrats who say the same. Latino immigrants also are somewhat more likely than U.S.-born Latinos to be evangelical (19% vs. 12%). Evangelicalism is especially prevalent among Latinos with Central American origins, mirroring a pattern seen in those countries. Roughly three-in-ten U.S. Latinos with Central American origins (31%) say they are evangelical Protestants, a higher share than among those with roots in Puerto Rico (15%) and Mexico (12%).


Looked at in the opposite direction, among evangelical Protestants who are Latino, half identify with the Republican Party or are independents who lean toward the GOP, and 44% are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. Among Latino Catholics, by contrast, fewer (21%) are Republicans, while 72% identify as Democrats. Religiously unaffiliated Latinos are also heavily Democratic (66% Democratic vs. 24% Republican).


Childhood religion and religious switching among Latinos

Another way of measuring religious change is to ask respondents how they were raised, religiously, and see how that compares with their current religious identity.


Most U.S. Latinos (65%) say they were raised Catholic, while far fewer say they were raised Protestant (18%), religiously unaffiliated (13%) or in some other religion (3%). Older Latinos and those who were born outside the U.S. are especially likely to say they were raised Catholic.



But like Americans overall, many Latinos switch away from their childhood religion. As of 2022, one-third of Latino adults indicate that their current religion is different from their childhood religion.




Catholicism has seen the greatest losses due to religious switching among Hispanics. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. Hispanics are former Catholics: While about two-thirds of Hispanic adults (65%) say they were raised Catholic, 43% say they are currently Catholic, according to the 2022 survey. And for every 23 Latinos who have left the Catholic Church, only one has converted to Catholicism.


By contrast, the religiously unaffiliated have experienced the biggest gains. Fewer Latinos say they were raised with no religious affiliation (13%) than currently identify as unaffiliated (30%). For every Latino raised without a religious affiliation who has joined a religion in adulthood (totaling 3% of all Latino adults), about seven Latinos have left their childhood religion and become unaffiliated (20%).


Protestantism has seen more modest growth due to religious switching among Latinos. For every two Latinos who were raised as Protestants before converting to another faith or becoming unaffiliated, about three have converted to Protestantism in adulthood. In all, 18% of U.S. Latinos say they were raised Protestant, while 21% say they are currently Protestant.


Catholicism has seen similarly large losses among both U.S.-born and foreign-born Hispanics. About one-in-five U.S.-born Hispanics (22%) were raised Catholic and no longer identify as Catholic; this is the case for 23% of foreign-born Hispanics. Disaffiliation from religion is somewhat more common among U.S.-born Hispanics: About a quarter of U.S.-born Hispanics (23%) say they were raised in a faith but are now religiously unaffiliated, compared with 16% of foreign-born Hispanics.


U.S.-born Hispanics are about as likely to become Protestants as to leave Protestantism (7% vs. 8%). But among foreign-born Hispanics, 4% were raised Protestant but have since left the religion, compared with 11% who were raised in another tradition (or no religion) and have since become Protestants.


Religious commitment among U.S. Latinos




Religious commitment among Latinos falls along a spectrum. Protestants are especially likely to say religion is important to them and to report that they frequently pray and attend religious services. At the other end of the spectrum are the unaffiliated, sometimes called religious “nones,” who are a relatively nonreligious group. Catholics fall somewhere in the middle.


Hispanic evangelical Protestants express especially high levels of religious commitment; nearly three-quarters (73%) say religion is very importantto them. Non-evangelical Protestant (56%) and Catholic (46%) Hispanics are somewhat less likely to say this. And about three-quarters of unaffiliated Hispanics say religion is not too or not at all important in their lives.



Similarly, nearly six-in-ten Latino evangelicals (58%) say they attend religious services weekly or more often, compared with 37% of non-evangelical Protestants and 22% of Catholics. (A similar share of U.S. Catholics overall, 26%, say they attend Mass weekly.) The vast majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans seldom or never attend services, including 86% of unaffiliated Latinos.




Most Latino evangelicals also say they pray daily (72%), while non-evangelical Protestants are about as likely as Catholics to do this (55% and 52%, respectively). Most Latino “nones” seldom or never pray (61%), though a substantial minority (29%) say they pray at least weekly.


Many U.S. Latinos attend services where people pray in tongues

Pentecostalism and other forms of charismatic Christianity have grown in influence in Latin America. A distinguishing characteristic of Pentecostalism is its emphasis on spirit-filled forms of worship, such as speaking in tongues.


Nearly half of U.S. Hispanic Protestant churchgoers (45%) say their services include praying in tongues at least sometimes. The share is even higher among Hispanic Protestants who describe themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians (57%). Attending services where people pray in tongues is much less common among churchgoing U.S. Protestants overall (27%).3


Four-in-ten Mass-attending Latino Catholics also say their services at least sometimes involve praying in tongues, compared with about a quarter (24%) of U.S. Catholic churchgoers overall, according to a previous analysis.




Among Latinos ages 18 to 29, 79% are U.S. born and 21% are foreign born, according to a Research Center analysis of 2021 American Community Survey. ↩

Among Latinos ages 50 and older, 44% are U.S. born and 56% are foreign born, according to a Research Center analysis of 2021 American Community Survey. ↩

Based on survey conducted Nov. 19, 2019-June 3, 2020 ↩


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