Identity and Race: Millions of Latinos No Longer Think Of Themselves As Latinos, Study Finds

A woman holds a sign expressing Latino support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at his campaign rally at the Orange County Fair and Event Center, April 28, 2016, in Costa Mesa, California. DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

There are some 43 million people in the United States with Hispanic ancestry. Almost 90 percent of them identify as Latino or Hispanic, making it the nation's second-largest racial or ethnic group.

But according to an analysis of two national surveys by the Pew Research Center, around 11 percent of all people with Hispanic ancestry—5 million people—don't identify as either.

According to the data, Latinos begin to distance themselves from identifying with their Hispanic ancestry the farther they are from their immigrant roots.

"By the third generation—a group made up of the U.S.-born children of U.S.-born parents and immigrant grandparents—the share that self-identifies as Hispanic falls to 77 percent," according to Pew.

"And by the fourth or higher generation...just half of U.S. adults with Hispanic ancestry say they are Hispanic."


Among adults who say they have Hispanic ancestry but do not self-identify as either Latino or Hispanic, 81 percent of them say they never thought of themselves as Hispanic mostly because their ancestry is too far removed or their background is mixed, according to a Pew survey of those respondents.

Pew points to three major trends in the Latino community that might explain the drop off in self-identification with the ethnic group: lower immigration rates from Latin America since the Great Recession, the drop in fertility rate among Hispanic women, and high intermarriage rates among Latinos.

"These trends may have implications for the shape of Hispanic identity today. With so many U.S.-born Hispanics of Hispanic and non-Hispanic heritages, their views and experiences with Hispanic culture and identity vary depending on how close they are to their family's immigrant experiences," Pew researchers conclude.


As noted by Pew, racial and ethnic identity in the U.S. since the 1960s has been based on self-reports. Therefore, neither having a Spanish last name nor having Hispanic parents automatically makes you Latino or Hispanic.

An important marker that can predict whether someone identifies as Hispanic or Latino is their proficiency in Spanish.

According to Pew, 40 million people in the U.S. say they speak Spanish at home, but that number is in sharp decline among self-identified Hispanics.

"Among self-identified Hispanics, 61 percent of immigrants are Spanish dominant, meaning they are more proficient in speaking and reading in Spanish than they are in English. By comparison, only 6 percent of the second generation is Spanish dominant and essentially none of the third generation is Spanish dominant," Pew concludes.

For self-identified non-Hispanics who have Hispanic ancestry, the drop in Spanish proficiency is even sharper: "Fully 90 percent say they are English dominant and just 10 percent are bilingual," Pew states.


Experiences with discrimination also differ among self-identified Hispanics and non-Hispanics.

According to Pew, nearly 40 percent of self-identified Hispanics say they have felt discriminated against because of their background.

"By contrast, few self-identified non-Hispanics with Hispanic ancestry (7 percent) say they have experienced discrimination while 87 percent say they have never been discriminated against because of their Hispanic background," Pew found.