Story at a glance

  • Hispanic Catholics make up a larger percentage of Catholics in the U.S. than in years before, according to a new study.
  • This comes as Americans as a whole are increasingly less religious.
  • While white and Hispanic Catholics are similarly concerned about health care and terrorism, they differ when it comes to climate change and immgration.

There are currently 60 million Latinos in the U.S. — and growing — so it may not be surprising that the Catholic church in this country is more Hispanic than years before. But the reason for the demographic shift is perhaps more unexpected: There are less white Catholics. 

As a whole, Americans are less religious than previous decades. Pew Research Center studies showed that in 2018 and 2019, 65 percent of American adults describe themselves of Christian compared to 78 percent in 2007. At the same time, 26 percent of American adults identify as religiously unaffiliated compared to 16 percent in 2007. When it comes to Catholicism, 20 percent of adults identified as Catholic compared to 23 percent in 2009. 

But new research from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that the decrease is coming mainly from white Catholics, whose numbers decreased from 14 percent to 12 percent between 2010 and 2019. Meanwhile, the proportion of Hispanic Catholics has stayed stable at 6 percent. 

As a result, Hispanic Catholics make up a larger percentage of the American Catholic population, a trend that has both social and political consequences. The study found that Hispanic Catholics are more likely to identify as Democrats than white Catholics. And while both Hispanic Catholics and white Catholics list terrorism and health care in their top three issues of concern, white Catholics are more concerned about immigration. 

As the immigration debate rages on, Hispanic Catholics are more concerned about race relations. But at the same time, white Catholics are more than twice as likely to completely or mostly agree with the idea that “today discrimination against whites has become as a big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities." 

Hispanic Catholics, while less likely to have higher education than their white counterparts, are also more concerned with the consequences of climate change. Concentrated in the west and the south, 76 percent of Hispanic Catholics think climate change will cause harm to them personally, in contrast with only 47 percent of white Catholics.

Published on Feb 10, 2020