Millennial adults in the United States – that is, Americans ages 18 and older but born after 1980 – are more “detached from institutions,” including traditional religion, than their elders, according to a Pew Research report released earlier this year. We’ve also known for a while that younger generations are less likely to affiliate with religious groups.
Our new survey of U.S. Hispanics and religion enables us to take a more detailed look at whether the trend holds true among the country’s largest ethnic minority. And indeed, Hispanic Millennials mirror young American adults overall in their lower rates of religious affiliation and commitment compared with their older counterparts.
Similar shares of Hispanic Millennials (28%) and U.S. Millennials overall (31%) say they have no particular religion or are atheist or agnostic. By comparison, the percentages of Hispanic adults overall and American adults overall who are religiously unaffiliated are lower (18% of Hispanics, 20% of all U.S. adults).
Our new survey also finds lower levels of religious practice, by several measures, among Latino adults born since 1981. About three-in-ten (31%) say they attend religious services at least weekly, a percentage comparable to U.S. Millennials overall (29%) and lower than among Latinos overall (40%).
A similar pattern exists when it comes to how often Hispanic Millennials pray outside of services: 47% of Hispanic Millennials say they do so at least daily, compared with 59% of Hispanics overall (including 73% of Hispanics ages 50 and older). And there is a 13-point gap between Hispanic Millennials and Hispanics overall when it comes to how many say religion is “very important” in their lives (47% vs. 60%).
It is impossible to know whether Latino Millennials’ lower level of religious commitment will persist as they get older. Among the general public, a look at long-term trends suggests that Millennials’ lower levels of religious practice are not entirely generational, but result in part from people’s tendency to place greater emphasis on religion as they age.
There has been significant religious switching by Latinos in the U.S. Among younger Latinos, much of that switching has been in the direction of becoming religiously unaffiliated – and most who have switched religions say that it happened while they were relatively young. Seven-in-ten U.S. Latino adults who have left their childhood religion say they switched before age 24.
Hispanics make up a growing share of U.S. Catholics, but the share of U.S. Hispanics who are Catholic has declined 12 percentage points over four years (from 67% in 2010 to 55% in 2013). Among Hispanic Millennials who are Catholic, 36% say they could imagine themselves leaving the church someday. The issue of attracting and retaining young Hispanics has caught the attention of the Catholic Church.
A recent study conducted by Boston College researchers laid out the stakes for the future: “Much of the Catholic experience in the country during the next few decades will be signiﬁcantly shaped by how the Church reaches out” to Hispanics under age 18, the report said, “and whether young Hispanics in this age bracket, at least those growing up in Catholic households, decide to self-identify as Catholic.”