The share of Latino Americans who say they are religiously “unaffiliated” has nearly doubled in the last decade, with now about half young adult Latinos washing their hands of religious affiliation, according to data from Pew Research Center released last month.
People who say they claim no religion or “nothing in particular” are the largest growing religious group among Hispanic Americans.
Pew used the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic” interchangeably throughout the report, and refers to people with ancestry from a country whose primary language is Spanish and people with origins from anywhere in Latin America. Some government agencies like the U.S. Census Bureau use slightly different criteria to define Hispanic, as Pew explains here.
As of 2022, about 30% of Latinos claimed no religion or “nothing in particular,” survey data shows. This figure is up from 10% claiming no religion in 2010. There are more than 62 million Hispanics in America, representing about 19% of the population–the largest share ever recorded.
Here’s what the the data shows us:
Religious switching is driving the change
The largest contributor to this trend toward no religion is religious switching–the same theme that has made religious “nones” the largest growing religious group (or anti-group?) in America.
Pew defines religious switching as “a change between the religion in which a person was raised (in childhood) and their present religious identity (in adulthood).”
Religious switching is another common theme with one in 3 Latinos saying their current religion is different from the religion they grew up in. Religious switching has driven the American trend toward leaving the pews, and data suggests that trend may continue. The trend has led to the religiously unaffiliated becoming the fastest growing religious group among Latinos, like the general American population.
The religious group that shrunk the most was Catholics. Despite declines, Catholicism remains the majority religion for Latinos, especially those who were born outside America and those who speak only or mostly Spanish.
Catholicism remains the majority despite major losses and Protestantism is growing
As of 2022, 43% of Latino adults identify as Catholic, down from 67% in 2010, according to Pew. Even so, Latinos remain about twice as likely as U.S. adults overall to identify as Catholic, and about 65%say they were raised Catholic.
While Catholicism still reigns supreme, it’s taken some major losses in recent decades. Pew found for every 23 Latinos who left Catholicism, one has been converted.
Both Pew’s data and experts say Catholic losses and Protestant growth are driven by religious switchers. The growth in Latinos who identify as Protestant are mostly former Catholics. Jonathan Calvillo, an assistant professor at Emory University’s School of Theology said the boom is also linked to more Latinos coming to the U.S. from countries like Guatemala where evangelicalism has a strong influence.
This isn’t surprising for Stephanie Guererro, a 27-year old parent living in Marlboro, Maryland, said the scandals surrounding the Catholic church have pushed her away from organized religion.
“For me personally, my mom wanted me to still baptize my son and I do not care to. I believe in god, I just feel a personal relationship with god is more important to me than anything else,” he said.
Age and country of birth are key factors
People born in another country who later moved to America are more likely to claim Catholicism compared to Latinos born stateside.
People born in America, however, are more likely to be unaffiliated–with nearly 80% of all Latinos between 18 and 29 born in America, this trend is likely to continue, the data suggests. Older Latinos and those born outside the states are more likely to be religious and Catholic compared to American-born Latinos.
While experts say leaving your religion can affect your health, some Latinos have a more neutral view on the phenomenon.
Agustin Aguerre, a 27-year-old who lives in Brooklyn, said he views the growing trend toward no particular religion as a good thing, but said religion itself can be a unifying force for good. Aguerre also does not identify with a religion.
“Religion creates an us versus them distinction between groups. I think we can accomplish the same kind of value development without having those groups,” he said. “Churches that are really bringing people together who are from different races in different countries is a great way for people to realize how similar you are to people from other countries.”
Aguerre was born in Uruguay and regularly attended church with his family when he was young, but they stopped attending church after moving to America. He said he suspects many other Latinos who grew up like him may have stepped away from organized religion because of lack of access due to poor transportation, social fears and the isolation that many immigrants experience when moving to America.
Guerrero also said a multi-religious and multi-cultural exposure to faith has deepened her own understanding of spirituality.
“I grew up in a majority African American community, so I’ve been to Christian funeral services and love them so much compared to Catholic funeral services. It didn’t make me want to identify as Christian or join the church, but it gave me a different perspective of people passing,” she said.
The future is more secular
The trend toward no religion is growing around the world and is not a uniquely American or Latino trend. Europe has been on the road to a more secular population for decades and the general American population has followed, Pew data shows.
For more info on the fastest-growing non-belief, check out these links:
- The decline of Catholicism in Latin America (Axios)
- Why many Latinos are choosing Protestantism over Catholicism (Axios)
- Christians soon to be a minority, thanks to young ‘religious switchers’ (Anna Beahm, Reckon.news)