Why are US hispanics defecting from Catholic to Evangelical churches?

There has been a fall in the number of US Hispanics identifying themselves as Catholic in the last five years(AP)

New data from Pew Research shows that increasing numbers of Hispanic Americans are leaving the Catholic Church.

The 2013 Pew Survey of Latinos and Religion found that out of 5,103 respondents 55 per cent identified as Catholic. This is a decline from the 67 per cent figure reported in 2010.

According to Pew Research's data, it seems many of the US's 35 million Hispanics are leaving the Catholic Church, and are either losing any religious affiliation, or are joining Evangelical Protestant churches.

In 2010, 12 per cent of Hispanics were members of Protestant congregations, in 2013 that number reached 22 per cent, with most of them being Evangelical Protestants. Approximately 10 per cent of US Hispanics were lacking religious affiliation in 2010. In 2013 that number reached 18 per cent.

The data also reveals that the group least likely to be Catholic are younger Hispanics.

Of Hispanics aged 50 or over, 64 per cent identify as Catholic. For 30 to 49-year old Hispanics, that number drops to 57 per cent, and for those Hispanics between 18 to 29 years of age, only 45 per cent call themselves Catholic.

Hispanics without religious affiliation are most likely to be younger. Only 11 per cent of Hispanics aged 50 and over are unaffiliated, as are approximately 15 per cent of 30 to 49 year olds. Among 18-29 year olds, the percentage of unaffiliated jumps to 31 per cent.

In contrast the percentage of Hispanic Evangelicals remains fairly constant across generational lines. Evangelicals make up 20 per cent of 18 to 29 year old Hispanics, 24 per cent of 30-49 year olds, and 21 per cent of over 50s.

Interestingly, although younger Hispanics are less likely to be Catholic, younger Catholics are more likely to be Hispanic. Among the US's Catholics aged between 18 and 29, Hispanics made up the largest single ethnic group at 44 per cent. Non-White Hispanics are 43 per cent.

The data also notes that many of these new Hispanic Evangelicals are moving to Protestant communities in later life, while many of those Hispanics raised Catholic seem to be the ones leaving the Catholic church.

Although only 55 per cent of respondents asked considered themselves Catholic when they were asked, 77 per cent said they were raised to be Catholic.

Among Protestant Hispanics, we see the opposite trend. While 22 per cent of the respondents belong to Protestant churches, only 14 per cent were raised in the Protestant tradition.

It would also appear that those Hispanics who become Evangelicals also become more religious, in terms of their devotion and observance.

When asked about attending services, 40 per cent of Catholic Hispanics said they go weekly, compared to 71 per cent of Evangelical Hispanics. Daily prayer is practiced by 61 per cent of Catholic Hispanics and 84 per cent of Evangelical Hispanics.

Evangelical Hispanics are also more likely to read the Bible 'literally' with 63 per cent saying that they treat the Bible's text that way, compared to 45 per cent of Catholic Hispanics.

Pro-Life views are also more common among Evangelical Hispanics. Almost three quarters, 70 per cent of Evangelical Hispanics believe that abortion should either be outlawed or much more heavily restricted. That same view was shared by 54 per cent of Catholic Hispanics.

The nominal Republican leaning trend among Evangelical Christians in the US is limited among Evangelical Hispanics, with only just under a third considering themselves to be Republicans.

The reasons many people reported having switched or lost religion are varied, but the largest group report that they "Just gradually drifted away". This was the case for 66 per cent of Catholics who are now unaffiliated, and 70 per cent of protestants who have lost their affiliation.

One important factor in reasons for change noticed in the report is that almost half of all Catholics who became Protestant, 49 per cent, said they did so because they found "a congregation that reaches out/helps members".