According to the United States Census Bureau, as of 2017, Hispanics made up the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., with 58.9 million Hispanic Americans representing 18 percent of our national population. This culturally diverse group has roots in a variety of Hispanic countries, the largest percentages hailing from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, among others.
Over the years, Barna has kept up with Hispanic faith trends in the U.S. (and, more recently, abroad). In light of Hispanic Heritage month, observed every year from September 15 to October 15 in celebration of the cultures and histories of the American Latino community, we want to offer a general profile of Hispanic Americans today. In our 2012 report, Hispanic America: Faith, Values & Priorities, Barna identified key elements that strongly characterized the Hispanic community such as a deep connection to family, a concern for social justice and a firm belief in faith practice. Today, we will look to Barna tracking data as well as more recent studies to see how the values and perceptions of the nation’s largest minority group has shifted in the last 15+ years—including notable dips in religious affiliation and practice that mirror national trends.
Home & Life: Commitment to Family and Work Ethic Characterize This Community
Traditionally, Hispanic culture places a large emphasis on the importance of family. In 2012, over one in three Hispanic respondents (36%), the plurality, told Barna they believed that their community’s “commitment to family” was its most important contribution to American society.
Hispanic American households also tend to be more bustling than the average. According to the Census Bureau, in 2016, three in four Hispanics (75%) were part of a household comprised of other family members (as opposed to roommates, domestic partners or living alone), a notable contrast to the national average of 65 percent. Research from Households of Faith , a 2018 Barna study that surveyed practicing Christians households, shows that while the majority of Hispanic family sizes are on par with other ethnic groups, nearly one in five Hispanic respondents in the study (17%) reports their household being comprised of nine or more people, a much higher percentage than among other ethnic groups. (Note that “households” in the Barna study, conducted among practicing Christians, only include individuals that live with at least one other person, whether or not they are related, and excludes people living alone.)
Hispanic Americans who are practicing Christians boast vibrant households in other ways, with many families doing daily activities together such as sharing dinner (71%), praying (49%) and talking about faith or God (37%). Faith heritage is also strong in these households, as 58 percent of Hispanic practicing Christians agree that they carry on “unique or special Christian religious traditions” that they learned from their family.
Responses from Hispanic practicing Christians in the Households of Faith study also suggest they open their homes and lives to non-family as well; 82 percent confirms having people in their life “who are so close they feel like family” with whom they spend a significant amount of time. More than half (58%) also agree that they frequently welcome “regular visitors” into their home. All in all, about half of Hispanic respondents agree their home atmospheres feel loving (59%), comfortable (59%), safe (56%), joyful (51%) and peaceful (48%).
Returning to Barna’s 2012 Hispanic America report, having a strong work ethic was another characteristic that Hispanics claimed and took pride in, second to their family commitment. Over one in five (24%) reported then that they believed their work ethic was “the single most important way that the Hispanic community adds to American society.” Looking at Barna’s 2018 Christians at Work project, which sought to examine the intersection of calling and career, Hispanic Christians in the U.S. note that “providing for my family” (57%) and “having enough money to meet my own obligations and needs” (46%) are their ultimate financial goals in life. While it would seem that their work ethic is driven largely by a need to provide, the vast majority of employed Hispanic Christians (63% very, 29% somewhat) say they are satisfied with their current job. A little over three in four (77%) say they feel “made for” or “called to” the work they currently do. The majority also agrees they are aware of the “gifts and talents” that God has given them (80% strongly, 17% somewhat) which they want to use “for the good of others” (91% strongly, 6% somewhat).
Voting & Social Views: Concerns Surrounding Immigration Have Escalated Over Time
Where do Hispanic voters appear in the current political landscape? According to Barna FaithView, when it comes to political affiliation, a plurality of all Hispanic Americans affiliates with the Democratic party (39%), while 18 percent say they are Republican. One in ten (10%) aligns with Independents. Still, one in four (25%) is not registered to vote. These numbers do not fluctuate much when looking at only self-identified Christian Hispanics (37% Democrat, 22% Republican, 9% Independent, 25% not registered, 8% unsure).
Following President Trump’s election in 2016, Barna asked the general population whether or not they believed the U.S. was headed “in the right direction or the wrong direction.” One in four Hispanics (26%) opted for the more positive response, with the majority (74%) noting then that they believed America was going in the “wrong direction.” At that time and in the subsequent term, the Hispanic American community, among other ethnic minorities, has been at the center of national debate and tension during the Trump administration. In a new study on race relations, Barna data show the majority of Hispanic adults in the U.S. believe that “minorities (non-white races) have experienced undeserved hardship,” with one in four (23%) answering “always.” Another 30 percent say this is “usually” the case and one-third (34%) notes minorities “sometimes” face hardship. Less than one in 10 Hispanic Americans (9%) feel this is “rarely or never” true. These percentages hold steady when looking at Hispanic practicing Christians, more than a quarter of whom (27%) affirms that minorities always face such obstacles.
While hardship comes in many forms, more than half of Hispanic Americans (53%) noted in 2012 that they were “very concerned” about immigration. A 2017 poll showed that five years later, the Hispanic American community still had much to say about immigration policies: Over half (52%) disagreed that “[the U.S.] allows too many immigrants into the country” and almost three-quarters (72%) agreed that “America should welcome refugees during a crisis.”
Recent data (2017) show that, overall, Americans, including Christians, softened their views on this topic even in a relatively brief period of time, and the majority (85%) agreed that “people from different cultures enrich America.” However, the political discourse surrounding this topic has only become more volatile in recent years, with current immigration regulations affecting citizens from a number of foreign countries, especially Latin and South American nations, who are seeking asylum within U.S. borders. This is an area for future inquiry, particularly in an election season, as this perspective has likely shifted over the last two years.
Faith Perceptions & Practice: Declining Religiosity & Increasing Doubts
When it comes to religious segmentation, Barna tracking data show a downtrend in Christianity over the last decade and a half (2003: 84%, 2015: 79%, 2018: 73%). Currently, nearly three in four Hispanic Americans (73%) agree that “faith is very important in my life,” though rates of Christianity drop by generation, with 84 percent of Boomers, 77 percent of Gen X and 63 percent of Millennials self-identifying as Christian. Denominationally, more than half (56%) voice a commitment to the Catholic Church.
What about the practices and beliefs that stem from these religious identities? In 2003, over a decade and a half ago, 83 percent said they had prayed to God in the last seven days. By 2018, that number dropped significantly to 70 percent. A similar trend is shown among respondents when asked if they had read from the Bible in the last seven days, not including during a religious service at their church or synagogue (2003: 35% vs 2018: 29%).
Though today only about three in 10 Hispanic Americans (29%) read their Bible outside of a religious service, a slight majority (56%) agrees that “the Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings” (33% strongly, 23% somewhat). Commitment to this belief has waned with time; in 2003, two in three believed this to be true (46% strongly, 20% somewhat).
Church attendance among Hispanic Americans has also suffered in recent years. In 2003, Barna data showed four out of 10 (42%) Hispanic respondents attended a church service in the last seven days, but that proportion saw a 12 percentage point drop over 15 years (30%).
This steady decline in strong religious views and decrease in consistent faith practice—which mirror national trends—coincide with shifting faith perceptions among younger Hispanics entering adulthood. Several recent Barna studies have sought to understand the views of emerging adults. Of all the generations Barna has been privileged to research, Gen Z surpasses others not only in its diverse makeup and justice-driven worldview, but also in its apparent objections to the Christian faith. In the 2018 Gen Z study, we saw teens generally skew further away from Christianity and toward being irreligious, with one in three (36%) identifying as atheist, agnostic or none—double the percentage among the general population. Looking specifically at Hispanic teens in Gen Z, the proportion of those with no faith is on par with that of their generational peers (36%). Further, Hispanic teens in the U.S. are more likely than other ethnic groups in their generation to have a negative view of Christianity, noting that they “have a hard time believing that a good God would allow so much evil or suffering in the world” (39%) and “that there are too many injustices in the history of Christianity” (20%).
Despite being brought up in a culture that values the practice of religion, the younger generations of Hispanic Americans are not as certain as their elders. They are either searching for authenticity within Christianity—a faith that addresses family, justice, work and other concerns and priorities of the community—or opting out of it entirely.
About the Research
The Households of Faith study began with in-depth qualitative interviews with highly active Christians of various household types: two nuclear families, one multi-generational family, one single-parent family and a roommate household. Key insights about what makes a vibrant household or how faith grows in a household setting were initially identified through this research. The results from the qualitative interviews were used to shape the questionnaire for quantitative online surveys conducted from April 5–11, 2018. In total, 2,347 interviews were conducted, including 448 with teens between the ages of 13–17. In order to qualify, respondents had to identify as Christian, agree strongly that their faith is very important in their life today and report attending a church service at least once in the past month. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 1.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
The Christians at Work study began with qualitative interviews of 33 practitioners and thought leaders, representing a range of industries, conducted in December 2017 and January 2018. Subsequently, a set of quantitative online surveys was conducted February 27–March 12, 2018, and April 18–May 8, 2018, using an online panel. The sample included 1,459 self-identified U.S. Christians who agree somewhat or strongly that their faith is very important in their life today and are employed (full-time, part-time or self-employed, including unpaid work for a family business). The margin of error for this sample is +/- 2.3 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Another quantitative online survey of 424 U.S. Protestant senior pastors was conducted March 1–March 12, 2018. These pastors were recruited from Barna’s pastor panel (a database of pastors recruited via probability sampling on annual phone and email surveys) and are representative of U.S. Protestant churches by region, denomination and church size. The margin of error for this sample is +/- 4.8 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Data from Where Do We Go from Here? is based on quantitative surveys of 1,007 U.S. adults, 1,502 U.S. practicing Christian adults and 600 U.S. senior pastors of Protestant churches. Among pastors, Barna oversampled to include more perspectives of black pastors (100 respondents total). Interviews were completed online and by telephone between April and August 2018. The rate of error is +/- 2.3 percent for practicing Christians, 3.9 percent for pastors and 2.9 percent for the general population, at the 95 percent confidence level.
For the Gen Z report, two nationally representative studies of teens were conducted. The first was conducted using an online consumer panel November 4–16, 2016, and included 1,490 U.S. teenagers 13 to 18 years old. The second was conducted July 7–18, 2017, and also used an online consumer panel, which included 507 U.S. teenagers 13 to 18 years old. The data from both surveys were minimally weighted to known U.S. Census data in order to be representative of ethnicity, gender, age and region.
Practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives and have attended a worship service within the past month.
Gen Z were born between 1999 to 2015 (Only teens 13 to 18 were included in this study)
Millennials were born between1984 to 1998.
Gen X were born between 1965 to 1983.
Boomers were born between 1946 to 1964.
Elders were born before 1946.
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2019