March 29, 2017

Key findings about Puerto Rico

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. government granting American citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico. The island became a U.S. territory in 1898 after Spain ceded control of it following the Spanish-American War. However, Puerto Ricans did not gain U.S. citizenship until Congress passed the Jones-Shafroth Act in 1917.

Today, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with its own constitution and government (though the extent of the island’s legal independence from the United States has been the subject of debate). Island residents elect their own governor and members to the island’s legislature, but they may not vote in U.S. general elections for president and they do not have a voting member of Congress.

Here are answers to some key questions about Puerto Rico based on previously published Pew Research Center reports.

How many people live in Puerto Rico?

The population of the island was 3.4 million in 2016, down from a peak of more than 3.8 million in 2004. It is projected to decline in the coming decades, to about 3 million in 2050.

Puerto Rico’s population has grown steadily since at least the 1700s, and it increased each decade between 1910 (1.1 million) to 2000 (3.8 million). The population grew even during the Great Migration that occurred after World War II and into the 1960s, when hundreds of thousands left the island for the mainland. 

Why is Puerto Rico’s population declining?

decadelong economic recession has contributed to a historic number of people leaving Puerto Rico for the U.S. mainland. Between 2005 and 2015, Puerto Rico had a net loss of about 446,000 people to the mainland, with job-related (40%) and family or household reasons (39%) cited as primary causes among a plurality of those leaving.

Puerto Rico’s population losses have affected nearly every county, or municipio, on the island. The population of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital and largest metro area, declined by 40,000 people (-10%) between 2005 and 2015, to 355,000, by far the largest numeric drop of any municipio.

Many people who leave Puerto Rico move to Florida, where the population of Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin surpassed 1 million in 2014. In recent years, more than a third of people who moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico settled in Florida.

How do Puerto Ricans on the island differ demographically from Puerto Ricans on the mainland?

Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin living on the island have a lower median household income and a higher child poverty rate than Hispanics of Puerto Rican origin living on the U.S. mainland, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2015 Census Bureau data.

The median age of Puerto Ricans on the island was 40 in 2015, compared with 46 for the island-born living on the mainland. By comparison, the median age was only 22 for Puerto Rican-origin Hispanics born and living on the mainland.

The median household income of Puerto Ricans living on the island was $18,626 in 2015. It was more than twice as high among Puerto Ricans born and living on the mainland ($47,000) and island-born Puerto Ricans living on the mainland ($33,300).

Nearly six-in-ten Puerto Rican children on the island (58%) lived in poverty in 2015, as did 45% of island-born children living on the mainland. Only 30% of Puerto Rican children born on the mainland were in poverty.

There are some differences on educational attainment between Puerto Ricans on the island and the mainland. Nearly half (48%) of Puerto Ricans living on the island had at least some college education in 2015, a similar share (55%) to that of Puerto Ricans born and living on the mainland. Among island-born Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, 43% had some college education or more.

Puerto Ricans are overwhelmingly Christian. A majority (56%) of Puerto Ricans living on the island identified as Catholic in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey of religion in Latin America. And 33% identified as Protestants, among whom roughly half (48%) also identified as born-again Christians.

Among island-born Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, about half (53%) identified as Catholic in a separate 2013 survey of U.S. Hispanics. Three-in-ten identified as Protestant, most of whom (62%) say they are born-again or evangelical.

About four-in-ten Puerto Ricans born on the mainland (42%) identified as Catholic, while 30% said they were Protestant. Among these mainland-born Protestants, 80% identified as born-again.

How do the views of Puerto Ricans on the island and those on the mainland differ?

Pew Research Center surveys have found some notable differences in public opinion on social issues between Puerto Ricans living on the island and those living on the mainland. Puerto Ricans on the island, for example, are more likely to oppose abortion than those on the mainland. Our surveys found that roughly three-quarters (77%) of Puerto Ricans living on the island said that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared with half (50%) of island-born Puerto Ricans living on the mainland and 42% of Puerto Ricans born and living on the mainland.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, 55% of Puerto Ricans on the island said that same-sex couples should not be allowed to legally wed, a higher share than among island-born Puerto Ricans living on the mainland (40%) and Puerto Ricans born and living on the mainland (29%).

Topics: Christians and Christianity, Demographics, Hispanic/Latino Demographics, Hispanic/Latino Identity, Income, North America, Population Geography, Population Trends, Poverty, Religious Affiliation

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

    is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.

  2. is a research assistant focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  3. is a copy editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous2 months ago

    The introductory paragraph shows how history has been whitewashed:
    –“U.S. government grant[ed] American citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico”
    -US citizenship was imposed; Puerto Rican’s were not consulted.
    –“The island became a U.S. territory in 1898 after Spain ceded control of it following the Spanish-American War”
    -Puerto Rico was attacked and INVADED during the Cuban-Spanish-American War. At that time it had already attained political autonomy from Spain, becoming a ‘provincia de ultramar’. Thus, US snatched it away as war booty, rather than it being ‘ceded’.
    Present social and economic woes in Puerto Rico derive from its colonial situation, which made it look towards the US -with a foreign culture and unattainable riches- rather than Latin America and its more similar cultural, geographical and economic realities.

  2. Anonymous2 months ago

    Mainland because PR is also “United States” wether some people like it or not. Good read!

  3. Anonymous2 months ago

    What cities did you sample for this survey? I am an island born Puerto Rican living in the States for over 35 years. I have never been asked to participate ln Puerto Rico Polls. I am College educated. Based on my salary I’m viewed as upper middle class. I live in the Southwest where there are hundredths of professional and educated Puerto Ricans working and integrated in diverse communities. The ones I talked to have never been poll either on anything related to PR. What’s there a datal call on TV, newspapers or social media?

    What cities “received” your sample data…I’ve never been asked….I am college educated from the island and in the states….based on my salary I’m viewed as upper middle class…I live in southwest there are….majority have never been questioned where are they getting the data from??

  4. Anonymous2 months ago

    The facts that are more important are that the Puerto Rican’s are 75% on some form of public assistance and are overwhelmingly anti American. The statistics are very telling. PR has a higher crime rate than any us state. San Juan is more dangerous than any us city. It also has the highest AIDS rate. The infrastructure is crumbling while the island is bankrupt. Not because of lack of tax revenue, but because of years of corrupt governing from both major parties. It also has around 20% illegal alien population mainly from Dominican Republic and Haiti. The mass migration to the us has left the lad without adequate numbers of Doctors to serve the disfunctional socialized medicine. A few doctors have coped with the situation by going insurance free. That means going to see your doctor for around $1000. Per visit.
    A nice dangerous place to visit, but not to live there.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      Where do you get your data from? I am from Puerto Rico, born and raised and none of what you said here is true. The Island is under financial trouble due to what it is owed to the US. Most PR people have college degrees and jobs. Medical personnel is available and tourism is always a big business. Check your data before you talk trash about my Island.

  5. Anonymous2 months ago

    If I understand what you present correctly, Puerto Ricans do not have the right to have Senators and Representative in Congress. They should! They are considered a territory of the United States, why not make them a State?

    Jim Graves

  6. Juan C. Rivera2 months ago

    That’s a good read. Now why is the US called the “mainland” exactly? I don’t know. They could have, preferably, referred to the “United States” without highlighting its​ perceived centrality, or the importance over and against the “minority” or the secondary nature of Puerto Rico.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      Yes, make it more confusing by ignoring the word most people understand about the difference – “mainland”. Keep on taking PC to the next level Juan!

    2. Anonymous2 months ago

      As a Puerto Rican, I think it merits highlighting the reality that the US is central to Puerto Rican affairs–no significant political change can come from the island without the consent of the US Congress, as the island is not truly sovereign. It bears reminding everyone that Puerto Ricans are truly second-class citizens, who are taxed without proper representation in the US government.