Major New Survey Explores the Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the U.S.
Although most Hispanics in the United States continue to belong to the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic share of the Hispanic population is declining, while rising numbers of Hispanics say they are Protestant or unaffiliated with any religion. Indeed, nearly one-in-four Hispanic adults (24%) are now former Catholics, according to a major, nationwide survey of more than 5,000 Hispanics by the Pew Research Center.
Together, these trends suggest that some religious polarization is taking place among U.S. Latinos – the nation’s largest minority group – with the shrinking majority of Hispanic Catholics holding the middle ground between two growing groups, evangelical Protestants and the unaffiliated, that are at opposite ends of the U.S. religious spectrum.
The Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion finds that a majority (55%) of the nation’s estimated 35.4 million Latino adults – or about 19.6 million Latinos – identify as Catholic today. About 22% are Protestant and 18% are religiously unaffiliated.
The share of Hispanics who are Catholic likely has been in decline for at least the last few decades. But as recently as 2010, Pew Research polling found that fully two-thirds of Hispanics (67%) were Catholic. That means the Catholic share has dropped by 12 percentage points in just the last four years.
Hispanics leaving Catholicism have tended to move in two directions. Some have become born-again or evangelical Protestants, a group that exhibits very high levels of religious commitment. At the same time, other Hispanics have become religiously unaffiliated – that is, they describe themselves as having no particular religion or say they are atheist or agnostic. This group exhibits much lower levels of religious observance and involvement than Hispanic Catholics. In this respect, unaffiliated Hispanics roughly resemble the religiously unaffiliated segment of the general public.
Hispanic Catholics are somewhere in the middle. They fall in between evangelicals and the unaffiliated in terms of church attendance, frequency of prayer and the degree of importance they assign to religion in their lives, closely resembling white (non-Hispanic) Catholics in their moderate levels of religious observance and engagement.
The survey was conducted May 24-July 28, 2013, among a representative sample of 5,103 Hispanic adults living in the U.S. The full survey report is available on the website of the Pew Research Center.
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