> Does anyone know offhand of data about defection rates, for example
> from Amish or Mennonites?
> Thanks, Henry Harpending
Coincidentally, this question recently arose on another list I'm on, and I
posted the following reply:
AMISH DEFECTION RATES AND AMISH IQ
Let's start with Amish IQ. Data probably exists, but I don't have any. I
did read that either Amish or a closely related group score poorly on
standardized tests, but I can't find the reference.
I did use the index to find this interesting passage in _On the Backroad to
Heaven_ by Kraybill and Bowman:
"A television series featuring an Amish family showed a young Amish woman
who was startled by the light inside a refrigerator in a neighbor's home.
Such scenes suggest that Old Orders are backward, uninformed, and naive.
Moreover, the taboo on high school by some of the groups may imply that they
are ignorant. Some outsiders are appalled to learn that many Old Order
teachers have not been educated beyond the eighth grade. These teachers are
not certified, nor are their schools accredited by professional
organizations. Rooted in rural areas, denied high school diplomas,
restricted in travel, shielded from television, and lacking the refinement
of the arts, Old Order members may, at first blush, appear culturally
disabled. In conversation with outsiders, they might ask questions like,
"What language do they speak in France?" or "Where exactly *is* the World
Wide Web?" Such questions may suggest that they are shackled by
provincialism. Moreover, the uniformity of Old Order life conjures up images
of mindless, robotic behavior.
"While it is true that Old Order people do not have resumes or academic
diplomas, and are not acquainted with the graces of middle-class manners, it
is unfair to call them ignorant. Without television they may miss the
latest political scandal, but they have ample wisdom in the depths of their
communal reservoir. From delivering babies to burying the dead, they live
their lives with little need of self-help manuals. The Hutterites ably
manage productive farming operations with hundreds of animals on thousands
of acres. Amish and Brethren entrepreneurs whose annual sales top a million
dollars may not hold MBA's, but they understand how to market products. The
bounty of handcrafted items flowing from all these groups bespeaks the
elegance of simplicity and the beauty of homespun ways."
Among the Amish and other Old Order groups, some conferences, groups, sects,
etc., are more conservative or liberal than others. Who suffers the highest
defection rates, the most rock-ribbed ultra-conservative sects or the more
progressive and open-minded factions? Many people would simply assume the
most backward sects have the highest defection rates, and they would be
wrong. The more progressive, modern sects have the highest defection rates,
the most ultra-conservative the lowest, with moderates in between.
Furthermore, the conservative sects tend to lose their relatively few
defectors to slightly less conservative groups, or to religious enthusiasts
like the Pentecostals.
(One sociologist--I've forgotten the author and book;it's one I don't
own--wrote that the highest defection rates of any group are the
non-religious; about 40% of their offspring were "defecting" to religion at
the time he wrote.)
From an endnote in _Backroad_:
"Some 81 percent of the adult children affiliate with the church in the
Elkhart-Lagrange settlement in northern Indiana. The Lancaster
[Pennsylvania] settlement retains more than 90% of its youth. In a recent
article, Meyers (1994) reports his findings from an in-depth analysis of
defection patterns in the Elkhart-Lagrange settlement. He found retention
rates ranging from 68 to 92 percent between 1920 and 1969....In the Holmes
County area of Ohio, retention rates vary by affiliation. In the large Old
Order group, about 85 percent of the youth join the church. The more
conservative "Andy Weaver" people retain about 95% of their youth. On the
other hand, the more progressive New Order community only attracts about 57
percent of its offspring....Generally speaking, the more conservative
affiliations typically have higher retention rates. More progressive New
Order groups permit more personal freedom and individualistic expression of
religious faith. Such openness makes it easier for youth to move up the
"Anabaptist escalator" by joining a more progressive Beachy Amish or
I would like to add here a caveat about the "openness" explanation. Since
the publication of Dean Kelley's 1972 classic, _Why Conservative Churches
Are Growing_, a growing number of sociologists think that organizational
strictness per se may trigger a psychological mechanism that reduces
See online "Why Strict Churches Are Strong:"
[if no "hyperlink," then copy-and-paste above link into a webpage address
or, in html,
Kelley's own book (_Why Conservative etc._) is available on the web
somewhere, but I've lost the link. It's also still available in print.
It's a relatively short book and a really entertaining read. Kelley, a
liberal United Methodist whose socially-acceptable, mainstream denomination
is among those in decline, writes very well. [Sadly, Kelley died not long
Strictness to the point of being counterproductive is certainly possible,
but the Amish and related groups do not seem to have reached that level of
Several years ago, some TV journalists asked a group of Amish about their
happiness level. Not only did they receive amazingly high levels of
self-reported happiness with their lives, but afterward several Amishmen
approached them privately and told them they had understated how happy they
really were so as not to appear boastful!
"Our most important crop is the children."--an anonymous Amish farmer