November 13, 2014

Religion in Latin America

Chapter 10: Demographic Profile of Religious Groups

The Pew Research survey of 18 Latin American countries and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico finds relatively few statistically significant differences between Catholics and Protestants when it comes to demographic characteristics, such as age, gender and educational attainment. In a few countries, however, Protestants are less likely than Catholics to have at least a secondary school education and are more likely to have relocated from a different part of the country. These demographic differences mirror the ones discussed in Chapter 1, which compares Catholics with those who were raised Catholic but have since converted to the Protestant faith.

Two factors that consistently distinguish the religiously unaffiliated from Catholics and Protestants are that, on average, the unaffiliated are younger and more likely to be male.

Age

Among the three major religious groups analyzed in this survey – Catholics, Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated – the unaffiliated are the youngest in age. Catholics, on balance, are the oldest population.

In Brazil, for example, the average age of the religiously unaffiliated is 33, compared with 42 among Catholics and 40 among Protestants. In Costa Rica, the average age of those who are religiously unaffiliated is 34, younger than Catholics (43) and Protestants (39).

Among Hispanics in the United States, Catholics and Protestants are similar in terms of age (averages of 42 and 41, respectively), while Hispanics who are religiously unaffiliated are significantly younger (average age of 34).

Gender

Across Latin America, the share of religiously unaffiliated people who are male is higher than the percentage of men among Catholics or Protestants. Catholics and Protestants are not significantly different from one another in terms of gender distribution.

The unaffiliated are mostly male in every country where adequate sample sizes are available for analysis. Roughly two-thirds or more of the unaffiliated are men in Honduras (76%), El Salvador (70%) and Nicaragua (68%), while about six-in-ten are men in several other countries. Among U.S. Hispanics as well, roughly six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated people (59%) are men.

In nearly every Latin American country, and among U.S. Hispanics, the gender breakdowns of Catholics and Protestants are roughly the same. The only exception is Colombia, where Protestants are significantly more female than are Catholics.

Education

Overall, the three religious groups included in the survey do not vary dramatically with regard to educational attainment.

In three countries – Argentina, Costa Rica and Panama – Catholics report significantly higher levels of education than do Protestants. Differences between Catholics and Protestants are especially large in Argentina, where 44% of Catholics have at least a secondary school education, compared with 24% of Protestants.

But in Honduras, significantly fewer Catholics report having a secondary school education compared with Protestants (21% vs. 30%). A similar pattern is seen among Hispanics in the U.S., where 68% of Hispanic Protestants say they have at least a high school education, compared with 60% of Hispanic Catholics.

The religiously unaffiliated generally report similar levels of education as do Catholics or Protestants. Chile is the one country where the religiously unaffiliated are significantly more likely than both Catholics and Protestants to report higher levels of education. In two countries – Argentina and Uruguay – the unaffiliated are more likely than Protestants to have at least secondary schooling, but they are not significantly different than Catholics in terms of education.

In the U.S., religiously unaffiliated Hispanics are somewhat more likely than Catholics or Protestants to report having a high school education or more.

Material Deprivation

Inability to Afford Food, Clothing or Medical CareThe survey asked respondents whether in the past year they had been unable to afford food, medical care or clothing that their family needed. No clear pattern emerges linking religious identity to material deprivation. In most countries, similar percentages of Catholics, Protestants and the religiously unaffiliated report struggling to afford at least one of these basic necessities.

In a few countries – Argentina, Costa Rica and Uruguay – more Protestants than Catholics report being unable to afford food, medical care or clothes.

In nearly every country where analysis is possible, the religiously unaffiliated are about as likely as Catholics to report impoverishment. In Honduras, however, the religiously unaffiliated are less likely than either Catholics or Protestants to say they have been unable to afford basic necessities. And in Mexico, the religiously unaffiliated report lower rates of impoverishment than Catholics, but they are about as likely as Protestants to say that in the past year they have been unable to afford basic necessities.

In no country are the unaffiliated significantly more likely than Catholics or Protestants to report impoverishment.

Household Composition

Census Data on Average Number of ChildrenThe survey asked all women how many children they have ever borne. However, due to small sample sizes of women just past their prime child bearing years (that is, between the ages of 35 and 49), the survey is unable to determine differences in fertility rates among religious groups.

In two countries – Mexico and Brazil – census data on both religious identity and household composition are available. Pew Research’s analysis of the census data shows that, on average, Protestant women have slightly more children than Catholic women in these two countries.

In addition, the census data indicate that religiously unaffiliated women in Mexico and Brazil have slightly more children than do Catholic women. And in Mexico, religiously unaffiliated women also have more children than Protestant women.

Geographic Mobility

The survey asked respondents if they have lived in their current location their entire life, or if they previously lived in a different part of their country. In four countries, more Protestants than Catholics have relocated at some point in their lives. In Costa Rica, for example, nearly half of Protestants (47%) say they have relocated, compared with 36% of Catholics. This pattern also is seen in Ecuador, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Elsewhere, there are no statistically significant differences between Catholics and Protestants in terms of geographic mobility.

In nearly every country where adequate sample sizes permit analysis, the survey does not find significant differences between the geographic mobility reported by the religiously unaffiliated and either Catholics or Protestants. Only in Puerto Rico are the religiously unaffiliated significantly more likely than Catholics to have relocated within their country (54% vs. 40%). On this question, Puerto Ricans who are unaffiliated are not significantly different than Protestants.