Content contributed by Megan Bissell, Research Project Manager, [email protected]
A recent Pew Research Center survey on the religious affiliation of Hispanic adults in the United States has significant implications for Catholic schools. While Catholicism remains the largest religious group among Latinos, its share among Latino adults has steadily declined over the past decade. In 2010, 67 percent of Latino adults identified as Catholic, whereas in 2022, only 43 percent of Hispanic adults identified as Catholic.
This decrease in Catholic affiliation among the Hispanic population has implications for the recruitment and retention of Hispanic students and families. School leaders need to understand the factors contributing to this decline in Catholic affiliation among Hispanics and develop strategies to address them.
One of the factors contributing to the decline in Catholic affiliation among Hispanics is the increasing number of young people born in the U.S. who are driving Latino population growth since the 2000s. About half of Latinos aged 18 to 29 currently identify as religiously unaffiliated, and only about one-in-five Latinos aged 50 and older are unaffiliated. Thus, school leaders would do well to focus on having a clearly stated value proposition as a core component of a recruitment strategy. We can no longer simply assume that younger generations are immersed in communities that have experience with the faith or Catholic education.
Another factor contributing to the decline in Catholic affiliation among Hispanics is religious switching. Catholicism has seen the greatest losses due to religious switching among Hispanics, with nearly a quarter of all U.S. Hispanics being former Catholics. For every 23 Latinos who have left the Catholic Church, only one has converted to Catholicism. Dioceses and schools need to understand why Hispanic students are leaving the Catholic Church and develop strategies to address the reasons behind the decline in Catholic affiliation.
Finally, it’s important to note that the Hispanic experience with Catholicism is not uniform. A recent book, Faith and Spiritual Life of Young Adult Catholics in a Rising Hispanic Church from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) echoes many of the findings above while also pointing out that religious behavior among young Hispanics has also taken on multiple different forms that often occur outside of traditional, institutional structures. Educators at every level should recognize that Hispanic students who identify as Catholic may have varying levels of religious commitment and consider adjusting their approach to cater to the diverse religious needs of their students.