PROSPECT HEIGHTS — While a new study found that Catholicism remains the dominant religion among Latinos in the United States, the trends associated with the data show a population distancing itself from the faith and becoming more and more religiously unaffiliated.
The study, “Among U.S. Latinos, Catholicism Continues to Decline but Is Still the Largest Faith,” published by Pew Research Center on April 13, found that 43% of Latino adults in the U.S. identify as Catholic, down from 67% in 2010. Meanwhile, the share of Latinos who are religiously unaffiliated now stands at 30%, up from 10% in 2010.
Even with the decrease, Latinos are about twice as likely as U.S. adults overall to identify as Catholic. However, the data within that 43% shows the potential impacts of a secularized U.S. culture on Latino Catholics and paints a bleak picture for the future if the trends continue.
The study found that more than half of Latino immigrants in the U.S. identify as Catholic (52%), and 21% are religiously unaffiliated. Whereas U.S.-born Latinos are less likely to be Catholic (36%) and more likely to be religiously unaffiliated (39%).
The same trend holds true when comparing Latinos in the U.S. who identify as English-dominant and Spanish-dominant. More than half of Latinos who identify as Spanish-dominant, identify as Catholic (56%). For English-dominant Latinos in the U.S., the percentage of Catholics falls to 32%.
U.S. Census Bureau data shows that there are approximately 62.6 million Latinos in the U.S. which make up 18.9% of the population. As of 2019, about a third of Latinos in the U.S. were born in another country, a previous Pew study found. Although that percentage has likely increased in recent years as the number of Latino immigrants coming to the U.S. has skyrocketed.
To complete the study a team of Pew researchers surveyed 7,647 U.S. adults, including 3,029 Latinos, from Aug. 1-14, 2022. Researchers recruited the respondents by phone and mail through a national, random sampling of residential addresses.
The Latino population that the study found is moving the furthest from faith — and this trend holds true across the general U.S. population — are young people, especially those born in the U.S.
“Young people born in the U.S. — not immigrants — have driven Latino population growth since the 2000s,” the study states. “Among U.S. Latinos ages 18 to 29, 79% were born in the United States. 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 (religiously) unaffiliated; most of these older Latinos (56%) were born outside of the U.S.,” the study continues.
In general, the study found that Catholicism has also seen the greatest losses due to religious switching among Latinos. The data shows that nearly a quarter of all Latinos in the U.S. are former Catholics (23%). Meanwhile, about two-thirds of Latino adults (65%) say they were raised Catholic, “and for every 23 Latinos who have left the Catholic Church, only one has converted to Catholicism.”
By comparison, Protestants are the second largest faith group among Latinos in the U.S., accounting for 21% of Latino adults. That 21% is an increase from the number of Latinos in the U.S. who responded to the survey that they were raised Protestant (18%), showing, although slightly, that Latinos in the U.S. are more likely to convert to the Protestant faith.
For those Latinos in the U.S. who identify as Catholic, the study found that more than 80% said religion is “very important” or “somewhat important” in their lives, while only 2% responded that religion is “not at all” important in their lives.
However, that importance doesn’t necessarily seem to translate to Mass attendance. 22% of U.S. Latino Catholic adults responded that they attend religious services weekly or more, and 12% responded that they attend once or twice a month.
Meanwhile, 28% of U.S. Latino Catholics responded that they only attend religious services a few times a year, and 38% say they seldom/never attend.