Indiana Amish occupations

Amish working on roof
Amish roofers hard at work.  Photo: Vanda Bidwell

Just what do the Amish do for a living nowadays?  The Amish have long been connected with farming.  But in reality, this association has become less and less accurate over the past few decades.  Published in 1995 (second edition 2004), Donald Kraybill and Steven Nolt’s Amish Enterprise documents one of the most significant changes in Amish society, the shift from agricultural to entrepreneurial pursuits.

Today, different Amish communities have different occupational makeups.  Holmes County, Ohio and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania are both highly entrepreneurial.  They differ in that Lancaster has a significantly higher percentage of Amish still involved in farming.  Allen County, Indiana is dominated by the construction industry, with many Amish operating contracting firms, and the number of full-time farmers having dwindled to nearly zero.

The northern Indiana community of Elkhart and Lagrange counties is notable for its high percentage of workers involved in factory work.  The most recent directory for this settlement is six years old, but one can still find some interesting statistics, specifically for the occupations of household heads.

Amish shop cleveland

photo: Amish-run store in downtown Cleveland, Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

The directory lists factory work as by far the most popular category, with 1179 household heads reporting this type of employment.  Second comes farming, with 515.  A further 289 report a combination of farming with some other type of work, such as carpentry or factory work.

In this settlement, you’ll also find 5 rug weavers (suggesting that the ‘household heads’ category may also include females—widows or single women, for example), 13 teachers, 7 therapists, 1 painter, 1 printer, 12 blacksmiths, 3 accountants, 2 bakers, and 200 woodworkers (read more: Amish furniture-Indiana).

The directory also points out that besides household heads, there are likely three times as many more Amish over the age of 18 in the labor force in the community.

Somewhat dated numbers, but nonetheless an interesting indication of the diversity of employment in North America’s third-largest Amish settlement.

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    1. Helen Parnell-Berry

      Looks like “Amish Enterprise” will be another book to add to the growing “Parnell-Berry Amish Library”. It’s quite interesting how the Amish are really entrepreneurial. However, doesn’t this contradict with their beliefs or is that just me being daft?

    2. I see a lot of the amish around these parts being involved in construction work. In this immediate area though they keep to themselves so much I don’t know what they do!

    3. Marc

      How do you get these directories?

    4. Do Amish restrict business ownership?

      Helen I’d recommend it as it is a very well-written and researched, interesting look at the phenomenon. And don’t worry at all about being daft with your question, generally there is no stricture against the idea of running a business and in many areas it is seen as a quite favorable alternative to farming, one that allows the father to stay at home with the family, just like with farming, yet doesn’t necessarily require the heavy investment that a farm has nowadays become in a number of Amish-populated areas. Churches will have for example certain restrictions on what can and can’t be done, ie from a technological standpoint, and the choice of occupation is relatively limited due to the fact that the Amish stop school at the 8th grade. Though the Amish community support each other through mutual aid, they are still a very capitalistic people.

      Marc, you can pick these up usually at dry-goods stores in Amish areas, and some can be ordered from Raber’s book store, there is a catalog in the Calender/Almanac.

    5. Lindsay

      Therapists? Like a shrink, or is this term used different amongst the Amish?

    6. Amish therapists

      Lindsay, probably physical therapy. Could be some podiatry or chiropractor-type work.

      There is at least one health store with vitamins and supplements in the nearby community of Nappanee. The owner I believe does some podiatric work. You do see the health stores in a lot of Amish communities.

      There have also been at least one or two less-legitimate health businesses, such as Amish ‘dentists’, one was in the news a while back.