Do “classes” exist in Amish society? How is wealth distributed? Do Amish use food stamps?

A new study in the latest JAPAS addresses these questions in the Holmes County Amish community (“Amish Economic Transformations: New Forms of Income and Wealth Distribution in a Traditionally “Flat” Community“, by Amyaz Moledina, David McConnell, Stephanie Sugars, and Bailey Connor).

Amish Poverty

Material wealth varies among Holmes County’s Amish

By tapping public data including Census info and real estate records, the authors develop a picture of Amish income and wealth in a segment of the Holmes settlement.

Using data for one heavily-Amish Census Tract, land title information, and the local church directory, they plot distributions of income and real estate holdings (land is described as “an excellent indicator of accumulated wealth”).

They also provide specific numbers for each of the four major Holmes County Amish groups (Old Order, Andy Weaver, Swartzentruber, New Order).

Interesting Findings

The paper contains a number of interesting findings about Amish in the Census Tract studied, including:

  • Higher rates of poverty than the national norm

The study’s findings “suggest that a disproportionately large number of Amish individuals in Census Tract 9763.01 have incomes below national poverty levels”. The authors note that this may be misleading, given differences in cost of living, larger families, and reliance on barter and sharing typical among Amish.

In 2006, local agencies in Ohio were tasked with boosting low food stamp participation rates in the state’s heavily-Amish counties. Likewise, the paper’s authors find that Amish food stamp participation in the area studied is basically nil (though a small number of Amish likely collect Social Security benefits).

  • Swartzentruber Amish own more land

They actually own a lot more on average than any of the other three groups–over twice as much acreage per person. The distribution of acreage is also most uniform among Swartzentrubers. These findings support the idea that Swartzentruber Amish have maintained an agricultural lifestyle more than other affiliations.

  • Bishops are more land-wealthy

The study also looks at land holdings by position in the ministry. The authors found that “as church rank increased from member to bishop, the distribution seemed to skew to the right, bishops having the highest total land values, suggesting church rank is associated with higher land wealth.”

The paper doesn’t address why this might be, but in concluding remarks the authors suggest further questions. Are church members more apt to nominate ministry candidates who own a lot of land? Do differences emerge after candidates are ordained?

If you found this interesting, you’ll probably enjoy reading the article in full.


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