What Pew gets wrong about Hispanics

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Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

There is one astonishing claim in Pew’s new survey of American Hispanics: Between 2010 and 2013, 12 percent of them stopped identifying as Catholics. That’s a drop from 67 percent to 55 percent of those over the age of 18 — four million people representing an 18 percent decline in the proportion of adult Hispanics who are Catholic.

Either the Latinization of the American Catholic Church has come to a halt or there is something wrong with the numbers. Based on the Trinity American Religious Identification Survey (the 2008 ARIS, with which I am affiliated), it’s the numbers.

Specifically, Pew’s 2010 survey, which had a sample size of 1,375, found the percentages of Hispanic Catholics, Evangelicals, and Unaffiliated (Nones) to be 67, 12, and 10 respectively. ARIS, in the field two years earlier with a sample size of 3,169, found the percentages to be 59.5, 16.6, and 12.4. Those numbers, which are in line with the results of the 2008 General Social Survey cited by Mark Gray of Georgetown, make clear that the problem has to do with Pew’s over-counting of Catholics in 2010.

But Pew’s 2013 survey, based on a sample size of 4,080, looks good. And when looked at in comparison with ARIS surveys going back to 1990, what it shows is a steady, moderate decline in the proportion of Hispanic Catholics over a quarter-century (65.8 percent to 55 percent); a small decline in the proportion of Hispanic Evangelicals (18.3 percent to 16 percent); and a threefold increase in the proportion of Hispanic Nones (6.4 percent to 18 percent). And that’s the news: the rise of the Hispanic Nones at the expense of the Hispanic Catholics, to a level comparable to the rest of the American population.

It’s important to bear in mind, however, that the total number of Hispanics in the American population has risen dramatically since 1990 — from 9.6 million adults to 33.3 million today. So notwithstanding the proportional declines, there are lots more Hispanic Catholics and Evangelicals in America now than there were back in 1990.

As has always happened in America, a significant portion of Catholic immigrants become Protestants. But there’s no evidence that the rate of such conversion is picking up among Hispanics. Indeed, the young adults — like their non-HIspanic peers, are much more likely to turn into Nones.

  • Jessica Hamar Martinez

    Our recent report has prompted a wide-ranging discussion, and we are grateful for the interest and attention that it has generated. But we think it may be helpful to clarify a few points.

    First, we fully concur that the decline in the share of Hispanics who are Catholic is a trend that has been underway for a while. As we note on the first page of the report overview, “The share of Hispanics who are Catholic likely has been in decline for at least the last few decades.”

    To document this trend and gauge the amount of change over time, however, it’s important to use data that allow for apples-to-apples comparisons, using surveys with the same basic methodology and asking respondents about their religious affiliation with an identically-worded question. The 2008 ARIS survey had a different point estimate from the 2010 Pew Research survey for share of Latinos who are Catholic, but these surveys differed enormously in sampling methods, question wording and other important ways, so the difference is not evidence either that the 2010 figure was an “overcount” or that the 2008 survey was an “undercount.”

    In our report, we document the decline in the share of Hispanics who are Catholic using three different, apples-to-apples comparisons. There has been a 12-percentage point drop in the share of Hispanic Catholics in Pew Research nationwide surveys of Hispanics from 2010 to 2013 using our standard question about religious affiliation. In addition, we compared General Social Survey (GSS) data from 2006 – the first year in which the GSS included Spanish-language interviews – to 2012 and found a similar, 13-percentage point decline in the share of Hispanic Catholics over that period. Finally, as part of our 2013 survey of Hispanics, we conducted a methodological experiment in which a subset of respondents was asked a religious identification question identical to one we posed in a major survey of Hispanics we conducted in 2006. This experiment shows an 8-percentage point drop in the share of Hispanics who identify as Catholic from 2006 to 2013.

    We included all of this information in our report so that readers can see the totality of the evidence, which points in the same direction: There has been a statistically significant drop in recent years in the percentage of Latinos who are Catholic, continuing a long-term trend that is helping to reshape the U.S. religious landscape.

    Lastly, as we noted, the growing size of the Latino population in the U.S. means that even though the share of Latinos in the U.S. who are Catholic is declining, the share of all Catholics who are Latino is increasing. We look forward to joining our peers in documenting these changes, and hope that our report will continue to be a source of robust discussion and deliberation.

    Cary Funk, Senior Researcher
    Jessica Hamar Martinez, Research Associate
    Pew Research Center

    For the full report, see: http://www.pewforum.org/2014/05/07/the-shifting-religious-identity-of-latinos-in-the-united-states/

    For our Fact Tank blog post, see: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/05/07/fewer-hispanics-are-catholic-so-how-can-more-catholics-be-hispanic/

  • Pingback: What Pew gets wrong about Hispanics, take 2 | Spiritual Politics()

  • Thanks for the comment. For my response, see http://bit.ly/1g456qw.