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Is There a Religious Shift Happening in Latin America?

Whenever I’m back in the US, I sometimes hear stereotypical ideas about how Latinos are in Latin America.

And those ideas don’t always fit with my experiences.

One of them being how everyone down here wants to move to the US.

To how everyone is some brown person with 100% indigenous heritage.

Or how most people here “hate Spain” because of that history.

On top of all of that?

How everyone in Latin America is SUPER CATHOLIC.

It’s a topic I already wrote about here or here.

Truth is that while you do have more religious sentiment among the locals on average than in the US, it heavily varies by what part of both regions that you are talking about.

For example, I don’t like mentioning publicly how I’m an atheist in the US because some people can take that fact up the ass quite hard.

For example, I remember talking with a friend named David in high school about it and some fat chick close to me almost had a seizure when I mentioned that detail.

To my mom also almost having a seizure and “having a talk with my dad” about it when she learned I joined some Facebook atheist page for my hometown in high school.

Which was kinda funny to look back on because neither of my parents are very religious nor did they ever bring religion into my life in anyway.

So let’s not pretend that it’s just Latinos who can be super religious.

After all, I’ve heard sometimes that the US can be one of the most religious countries among “the developed world.”

And so I’ve wondered how do Europeans see the US in this regard?

Do they also have some idea that we are overly religious?

In the same way that we Americans stereotype Latinos in Latin America to be even more insanely religious than us?

Because while I have encountered weird scenarios where ex-girlfriends have told me (a Colombian named Marcela and a Mexican named Brenda) to not tell their parents how I’m atheist…

They personally didn’t really give a damn what I believed.

In part, I chalk that up to Latinas in urban environments being generally less religious than those who live in rural areas.

Like anywhere in the world!

And also I chalk that up to a generational difference in which one could easily argue that there is a religious shift happening from generation to generation.

But it’s not just a religious shift from being religious to non-religious (atheist, agnostic, etc).

While that is happening in most of the world at varying rates from my understanding, you also have a religious shift in Latin America from Catholicism to Evangelism and Protestantism.

So it’s not like Latin America is entirely following the path of the US, Europe and Canada in becoming less religious.

That’s happening in part but you also have a shifting from one religious doctrine to another in some sense.

Let’s look at some data.

The Shift Away from Religion

First, let’s discuss how Latin America is following the world at becoming less religious overall.

As you can see here, most of the world is becoming less religious in general.

“According to the Pew Research Center published in 2010, religious conversion may have little impact on religious demographics between 2010 and 2050. Christianity is expected to lose a net of 66 million adherents mostly to religiously unaffiliated, while religiously unaffiliated are expected to gain 61 million adherents. Islam is expected to gain 3.2 million followers, while Buddhists and Jews are expected to lose 2.9 million and 0.3 million adherents, respectively.”

Though, to be fair, that same source does show that the developing world is still more religious than the developed world.

However, Latin America is experiencing its own decline also as you can see in this source here.

“Historical data suggest that for most of the 20th century, from 1900 through the 1960s, at least 90% of Latin America’s population was Catholic (See History of Religious Change). Today, the Pew Research survey shows, 69% of adults across the region identify as Catholic. In nearly every country surveyed, the Catholic Church has experienced net losses from religious switching, as many Latin Americans have joined evangelical Protestant churches or rejected organized religion altogether.”

And which Latin American countries have the largest share of the unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion)?

According to that last 2014 source, you can rank Latin American countries in terms of their percentage of unaffiliated people from greatest to least here:

  • Uruguay at 37%
  • Dominican Republic at 18%
  • US Hispanics at 18%
  • Chile at 16%
  • El Salvador at 12%
  • Argentina at 11%
  • Honduras at 10%
  • Costa Rica at 9%
  • Brazil at 8%
  • Puerto Rico at 8%
  • Nicaragua at 7%
  • Panama at 7%
  • Venezuela at 7%
  • Mexico at 7%
  • Guatemala at 6%
  • Colombia at 6%
  • Ecuador at 5%
  • Bolivia at 4%
  • Peru at 4%
  • Paraguay at 1%

Next, we should keep in mind this source here that claims that a total of 8% of all of Latin America’s population as a whole identified as having no religion back in 2011.

And do these numbers come as a result in a declining trend?

According to that 2014 source here, about 1% of Latin America’s population was religiously unaffiliated in 1910 but that number went up to 8% in 2014.

So there’s a few things to note here.

For starters, it’s kinda interesting how some lesser developed countries like El Salvador are closer to the top.

Or how the Dominican Republic beats Argentina.

With also that large gap between Argentina and Uruguay despite both countries having a lot of similarities.

Next, it’s nice how they brought in US Hispanics for comparison sakes.

Next, Paraguay at 1%? Damn, that’s small.

At least we know who’ll stay more religious than the others in the long run.

So if you happen to be on a mission from the Catholic gods to find yourself a nice religious gal, I guess a trip to Asuncion is in order?

Also, keep in mind that the sources above were from 2011 and 2014.

That’s 10 to 7 years ago as of this writing.

I imagine the numbers for the religiously unaffiliated are a tiny bit higher these days.

Finally, keep in mind that the data above doesn’t separate the amount of unaffiliated people by age.

I’m very confident that the amount of unaffiliated people is noticeably higher among younger people around my age than those in their 40s and 50s.

Of course, as we all know, that changes with time as people are more likely to adopt religion more strongly as they contemplate their morality with age.

The Roosh example here.

Roosh V -- is Roosh a real Christian?

That’s all I got to say on this matter.

Let’s go to other religious shifts now worth mentioning.

The Shift to Evangelism and Protestantism

For some reason, there’s been a shift in Latin America to Evangelism and Protestantism.

In one of Latin America’s largest countries, we have the case in Brazil where 83% of the population was Catholic in 1991 as you can see here but that number dropped to 50% of the population in 2019 with 31% of the population now being evangelicals and protestants as you can see here.

Going back to that 2014 source here, we can find some broader numbers for the region as a whole and also some partial explanation for why the shift is happening.

So let’s get to it!

As that source says, about 19% of Latin Americans as a whole are now protestant.

That number is up from 1% in 1910.

What’s also interesting is how many of the protestants were raised as Catholics but converted later to Protestantism.

How many Latin American Protestants were raised as Catholics before converting later in life?

Let’s break those numbers down by nationality from greatest to least.

  • Colombia at 74%
  • Paraguay at 68%
  • Peru at 66%
  • Ecuador at 62%
  • Bolivia at 60%
  • Venezuela at 56%
  • Argentina at 55%
  • Brazil at 54%
  • Nicaragua at 50%
  • Dominican Republic at 48%
  • US Hispanics at 47%
  • Mexico at 44%
  • Costa Rica at 40%
  • El Salvador at 38%
  • Puerto Rico at 38%
  • Uruguay at 37%
  • Chile at 30%
  • Honduras at 26%
  • Guatemala at 23%
  • Panama at 15%

And what were the reasons for why these folks left the Catholic church to Protestantism?

According to that same source, the reasons can be broken down as follows:

  • 81% said “seeking a personal connection with God”
  • 69% said “enjoy style of worship at new church”
  • 60% said “wanted greater emphasis on morality”
  • 59% said “found church that helps members more”
  • 58% said “outreach by new church”
  • 20% said “personal problems”
  • 14% said “seeking better financial future”
  • 9% said “marriage to non-Catholic”

And what type of Protestantism do they follow more often than not?

Apparently some type of Protestantism called Pentecostalism is the most common among the converted.

Next, there’s a clear commitment gap between both Protestants and Catholics in Latin America with a lot more Protestants showing a higher degree of high levels of religious commitment than Catholics in Latin America.

“High levels of religious commitment” meaning that they “they pray daily, attend worship services at least once a week and consider religion very important in their lives.”

Of course, the gap varies by country.

Countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay have a 30% gap of Protestants being more religiously committed than Catholics.

With Chile right behind that at a 29% gap.

And every other Latin American country showing Protestants to be more religiously committed than Catholics.

This gap can also be seen in terms of gender and age in which women are shown to be more religiously committed and those over the age of 35 are more religiously committed than those under the age of 35 for both groups.

Finally, when it comes to views on certain social matters like addressing poverty and gay marriage, there’s also a difference to be pointed out.

As the survey shows, Protestants across Latin America tend to be more opposed to gay marriage than the Catholics.

When it comes to addressing poverty, surveys show that Catholics answered more positively in favor of using charity to address poverty but Protestants were reported to actually engage in charity more frequently.

Outside of charity, both groups were more relucent for government involvement in addressing poverty but Catholics were more in favor than the Protestants in general.

As a side point, when factoring in this shift from Catholicism to Protestantism, it does make me wonder if Latin America could become more socially conservative in the coming decade or two?

Of course, this shift also stands in contrast to the previously mentioned shift to nonreligious affiliation.

We’ll see anyhow what changes come but, if I had to guess, I’d say Latin America becomes less socially conservative as that’s the general trend we’ve seen anyway.

Anyhow, enjoy this video on the subject here and let’s wrap this up.

Anything to Add?

Of course, I’m sure there are other religious shifts that could be mentioned regionally in certain pockets of Latin America.

As that 2014 source showed, you do have other more minor shifts happening.

I definitely recommend that you check that source out here if you want to read more on the matter.

Either way, that’s all there is left to say.

There’s a religious shift happening in some sense in Latin America like elsewhere in the world.

Latinos in Latin America becoming less Catholic overall.

If you have anything to add, drop a comment below in the comment section.

And follow my Twitter here.

Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


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