In the last 14 years, English proficiency among U.S. Latinos rose significantly due to a growing number of younger Hispanics born in the United States, according to an analysis of 2014 Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center.
As English language proficiency has risen among younger Hispanics, speaking Spanish in the home "is less common," the study found.
Some 88% of Latinos ages 5 to 17 said they either speak only English at home or speak English “very well,” up from 73% in 2000, the report found. Among millennial Latinos, aged 18 to 33, 76% said they speak only English at home or speak English very well, up from 59% during the same time period.
Meanwhile, some 62% of Hispanics ages 5 to 17 and 72% of Hispanic Millennials speak Spanish at home, according to the study, titled 'The Nation’s Latino Population Is Defined by Its Youth. The overall share of those across all generations who speak Spanish at home rose to 78% at the peak of the immigration wave in 2000 but has since tailed off, dropping to 73% in 2013.
The explanation lies in the increasing number of Hispanics born in the United States and a decline in the arrival of new immigrants, said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Reseacrh Center. "Without a new influx the U.S. born will really dominate the numbers," he said, with English dominant speakers becoming an ever greater share of the population.
Contrary to a common perception propagated by conservative politicians such as Republican candidate Donald Trump, the number of new immigrants from Latin America has been in decline for the last decade, the report added, noting that 65% of Latinos in 2014 were U.S. born, compared with 60% in 2000.
"One consequence of this trend is that a greater share of young Hispanics ages 5 to 17 are growing up in households where only English is spoken – 37% in 2014 compared with 30% in 2000," the report found.
By comparison, English proficiency among older Latinos has changed little since 2000. The report found eight-in-ten or more Hispanic Gen Xers (80%), Boomers (80%) and older generation adults (83%) speak Spanish in their homes.
The Hispanic population is the youngest in the country with a median age of 19, nearly six in 10 are Millenials or younger. By comparison, 39% of whites and half of the black population are Millennials or younger.
While the share of Hispanics who speak Spanish at home may have dropped, the overall number of Spanish speakers (about 36.7 million) continues to rise due to the growth in the Hispanic population, stressed Lopez, 49, a third generation Hispanic who learned Spanish later in life.
Experiences like his own were hard to detect in the census data, Lopez added. "Some people like me may speak only English at home but Spanish at work," he said. "When I was growing up, speaking Spanish was something that people didn't do. People were trying to run away from all those things that were Mexican. That's changed now," he added.
The rise of English has not dented the importance of Spanish among Hispanics, the report found. Nearly all U.S. Latinos say they value the ability to speak Spanish, with 95% saying it is important to them that future generations of U.S. Latinos speak the language, the report found. "Today there are English speaking Hispanics who don't speak Spanish but are aware of their Hispanic background and identity and want to preserve that," said Lopez.
The Pew analysis found that Spanish no longer defines the identity of many Hispanics. Some 71% said speaking Spanish is not necessary to be considered Latino.