What’s the Difference Between the Various Types of Amish?

posted: 07/12/13
by: TLC

This primer on the various types of Amish in the United States was provided by the production crew that films Breaking Amish: LA. For even more on Amish and Mennonite communities, read this article on Amish 101: Phrases and Traditions.

The biggest difference between the Amish in Indiana and those in Ohio and Pennsylvania is the diversity of groups and beliefs within the communities. Although Indiana has the third-largest Amish population by state behind Pennsylvania and Ohio, it has one of the most diverse Amish populations. Groups within Indiana have adapted to working within nearby English communities. Farm work has severely declined, as well as shops and businesses run out of Amish homes. Many Amish in Indiana have found employment working in factories or for the state's popular RV industry. The Indiana Amish profit from the industry, and many have higher incomes and skill sets compared to Amish who live in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

These factors - less focus on agriculture, higher incomes and more robust skill sets - have changed the way many Indiana Amish communicate with the outside world. Additionally, these factors have evolved the Amish traditions. Due to working outside the home, the men are away from their families several days a week. This has a ripple effect on traditional gender roles because women must make more decisions for the household. Some Amish worry that there's a hierarchy being created within the community based on wealth and status. However, there are other Amish groups in Indiana that hold steadfastly to tradition. Swiss Amish groups in Indiana are known to be the most conservative and have a different dialect than the Pennsylvania Germans.

Ohio has the largest New Order Amish population. The Amish divided in the 1960s into New Order and Old Order due to the diverging beliefs. The New Order Amish are known to be more progressive. They speak Pennsylvania German and wear beards (albeit trimmed shorter than Old Order Amish), but some permit telephone lines and allow air travel. Even more significantly, they hold the belief that one can know the state of his soul while on earth, in contrast to the "living hope" of salvation held among Old Order Amish. The New Order Amish are known for being more tolerant of outsiders, and they statistically have a lower percentage of keeping their children in the faith. The New Order Amish children of Holmes County, Ohio, have a two-thirds retention rate of keeping children within the faith, compared to the 80-90% retention rate of Old Order Amish in other states. These statistics may be a result of the New Order Amish engaging in rumspringa -- which is not a tradition of the Old Order -- and mixing within the English community.

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