October 31, 2017

Use of Spanish declines among Latinos in major U.S. metros

More than 37 million Latinos in the U.S. speak Spanish at home, making it the country’s most common non-English language. But while the number of Latinos who speak Spanish at home continues to increase due to the overall growth of the Latino population, the share of Latinos who speak the language has declined over the past decade or so: 73% of Latinos spoke Spanish at home in 2015, down from 78% in 2006, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.

The national decline in Spanish use among Latinos extended to all of the top 25 U.S. metro areas with the largest population of Latinos ages 5 and older. The San Antonio-New Braunfels and Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metro areas had some of the largest declines, with the shares who spoke Spanish in each declining by 9 percentage points. Some of the smallest declines came in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro areas, where the share who spoke Spanish at home declined by about 2 percentage points each from 2006 to 2015. (Click here for a sortable table of Spanish use by metro area.)

Despite this drop-off in use, most Latinos agree that speaking Spanish is a vital skill. In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, nearly all Latinos said it was important that the next generation of Latinos in the U.S. speak Spanish. Yet many Latinos (71%) say it’s not necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latino, a 2015 survey found.

About half of all Latinos who spoke Spanish at home in 2015 lived in the 10 metro areas with the largest populations of Spanish-speaking Latinos. These metro areas accounted for about 18.5 million Latino Spanish speakers. (Just three states – California, Texas and Florida – included 57% of Spanish-speaking Latinos in the U.S.)

The use of Spanish by Latinos can vary greatly by metro area, in part because immigrants are much more likely to speak Spanish than those born in the U.S. The large presence of immigrants in the Miami metro area, for example, helps explain why a far greater share of Latinos there speak Spanish than in metro areas like Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, where the vast majority of Latinos are U.S. born.

About nine-in-ten Hispanics spoke Spanish at home in Miami (90%) and McAllen (90%), the highest rates in the nation among the top 25 Latino metro areas. The Latino population in Miami had the highest share of immigrants (64%) among the nation’s largest metro areas. In McAllen, immigrants made up only 32% of Latinos, though the metro area’s shared border with Mexico helps explain the widespread use of Spanish there.

By contrast, in the Denver metro area, 57% of Latinos spoke Spanish, the lowest share among the metro areas analyzed. Sacramento and San Antonio also had low shares, with about 60% of Latinos speaking Spanish at home in each metro area. These areas had some of the lowest immigrant shares among their Latino populations – 29% in Denver, 30% for Sacramento and 16% in San Antonio – which helps account for their low Spanish-speaking shares.

Spanish use has also become less widespread among Latinos in the nation’s two largest metro areas by Latino population. In Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, home to more than 5.5 million Latinos ages 5 and older, 80% spoke Spanish at home in 2015, a decline of 3 percentage points from 2006. New York-Newark-Jersey City (3.6 million Latinos ages 5 and older) saw an even larger decline, with the share who spoke Spanish dropping from 85% in 2006 to 80% in 2015.

Spanish language use in major U.S. metro areas

Spanish speaking at home has declined in top 25 metros with largest Hispanic population
Metro area Spanish-speaking population (2006) % of Hispanics speaking Spanish at home (2006) Spanish-speaking population (2015) % of Hispanics speaking Spanish at home (2015) Percentage point change, 2006-15
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 341,881 86% 429,651 80% -6%
Austin-Round Rock, TX 290,694 71% 388,989 66% -5%
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 250,265 81% 350,968 76% -5%
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 1,359,455 84% 1,478,308 77% -6%
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 1,165,796 83% 1,426,774 79% -4%
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 283,918 60% 344,245 57% -4%
El Paso, TX 472,168 88% 518,138 83% -5%
Fresno, CA 257,795 69% 303,248 66% -3%
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 1,336,720 84% 1,690,224 77% -6%
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV 333,460 79% 446,552 76% -3%
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 4,239,233 83% 4,429,478 80% -3%
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 504,184 92% 620,426 90% -2%
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL 1,762,993 92% 2,208,303 90% -2%
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 3,145,559 85% 3,555,706 80% -5%
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 329,967 84% 501,421 79% -5%
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 239,852 75% 332,952 67% -8%
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 790,635 74% 823,349 66% -9%
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 1,150,035 72% 1,393,308 68% -4%
Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA 203,289 61% 260,441 59% -2%
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 669,898 69% 709,015 60% -9%
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 612,812 78% 742,116 74% -4%
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 571,628 76% 666,058 71% -5%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 297,222 75% 322,811 70% -5%
Tampa-St, Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 265,207 77% 367,947 74% -4%
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 459,512 84% 683,730 82% -2%
U.S. total 30,835,183 78% 37,356,761 73% -5%
Notes: Includes only Hispanics ages 5 and older.
Source: Pew Research Center analysis of the 2006 and 2015 American Community Survey (1% IPUMS).

Topics: Language, Hispanic/Latino Identity

  1. Photo of Jens Manuel Krogstad

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

  2. Photo of Mark Hugo Lopez

    is director of Hispanic research at Pew Research Center.