Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Amish are a fascinating group for a demographer. Living a largely pre-modern-type live surrounded by modern society, and modern record-keeping, many demographers treat the Amish as a kind of "living fossil," that is, a look at "natural fertility conditions," that is, fertility conditions without birth control or industrialization. I think that view is mostly wrong, but explaining why is a bit tricky, and getting data on these folks ain't always easy. So let's look at the Amish. First of all, how many are there? I will basically take the estimates of the Amish Studies Center at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, supplemented by a few other sources on earlier periods, and directly interpolated for missing years. And that folks is an exponential growth curve. You don't see one of them suckers in the demographic wild every day, and, when you do, it's usually some kind of new-settlement of virgin country or something ... or a developing country with few mass-catastrophic events.

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Here's population growth (spiky because of my linear interpolations). Growth rates have risen and fallen, but there's no strong time trend here. You may also be wondering, "With growth rates that high, how long until Amish population doubles?"

Based on the chart, a reasonable presumption would be that the Amish population doubles every 15 to 30 years. In other words, every generation is about twice as big as the one before it. This means the average woman must be having at least 4.2 kids assuming no conversions. But if you then assume, as most literature suggests, that about a quarter of Amish youths ultimately leave the church, and that conversions into the Amish lifestyle are very rare, then you arrive at a situation where long-run fertility of the Amish in the 20th century must have been 5.5–6.5 children per woman.

The most reliable data, the Geauga data, shows completed fertility of over 7 kids per woman for those born in the first half of the 20th century, then a decline. The Census-based data is lower, but still confirms very high fertility, and a decline in the postwar-born generation. Interestingly, simply speaking Pennsylvania Dutch is not a powerful indicator of super-high fertility. It's Pennsylvania Dutch and lack of a phone that seems to be the really strong indicator of Amish-type fertility.

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This is actually very important. See, the Amish are cut off from certain parts of U.S. society (many cultural norms, certain technologies, etc), but they aren't cut off from others. The Amish have farms and businesses that have to make money, and most Amish consider it morally acceptable to manage the spacing (and to a limited extent even the total number) of childbirths. So the Amish are impacted by the business cycle.
I have been strongly on the side saying that the decline in fertility in the U.S. is driven by technological changes (LARCs and emergency contraception) and by cultural changes; that the business cycle is not the primary cause anymore.
But the evidence from the Amish suggests otherwise. Even a group that had contraceptive use and cultural norms held roughly constant experienced a similar change in fertility as the U.S. general population. The only thing that they would have been exposed to is economically-transmitted fertility shocks via changes in economic returns from their businesses which sell to non-Amish people. This biases in favor of economic cyclicality driving fertility trends, and against culture.

In sum of this thought experiment: if Amish population growth continued at current trends, it would still take them over 200 years more to make up 100% of American population, barring some non-Amish population collapse. Exponential growth is a powerful thing, but the Amish are starting from a very low base.

#1 | Posted by GOnoles92 at 2018-02-11 03:53 PM | Reply

Not soon enough.

#2 | Posted by Tor at 2018-02-11 05:59 PM | Reply

Their raw milk is DELICIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

#3 | Posted by LauraMohr at 2018-02-11 07:31 PM | Reply | Funny: 1

I often go with my friends to fish farm ponds around Diagonal, Iowa. There are a number of Amish in the area, and one Saturday afternoon, one of the ladies was in town, horse tied to a telephone pole in front of the Sinclair station, selling pies, vegetables and buckets of milk. It was hot, and nothing she had was refrigerated. The horse started pissing and -------- on the asphalt, and 'stuff' was splashing everywhere - in the milk for sure, on the food. Didn't seem to phase that woman a bit, but I had to pass..

#4 | Posted by HeeHaw at 2018-02-12 10:45 AM | Reply

.. we also passed a horse drawn wagon with a couple of young Amish guys in it, and they proudly held up their cans of Busch light as we went roaring by... lol.

#5 | Posted by HeeHaw at 2018-02-12 10:50 AM | Reply

Why were there buckets of milk??? Every time I have bought raw milk from the Amish it's sold in gallon jars COLD. Something's a miss here.

#6 | Posted by LauraMohr at 2018-02-12 10:52 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

"proudly held up their cans of Busch light as we went roaring by"

seriously? no way....

#7 | Posted by eberly at 2018-02-12 10:58 AM | Reply

seriously? no way....

Posted by eberly at 2018-02-12 10:58 AM | Reply

It's part of Rumspringa (The running around time) before they make their formal commitment to the faith.

#8 | Posted by LauraMohr at 2018-02-12 11:09 AM | Reply

Regarding the Busch light - yes, seriously. I couldn't believe it either.

Laura, the buckets might have been cold (at one time?), but they were your typical galvanized farm buckets. The woman wasn't there more than an hour, so might have been on a 'schedule' or something where people knew she'd be there at a certain time, and fill their own containers from those buckets. But they were plain ol' buckets of milk. I didn't see anyone buy anything, and based on what I saw, understand why. But its a true accounting of what I saw..

#9 | Posted by HeeHaw at 2018-02-12 11:54 AM | Reply

"How Long Until We're All Amish?"

Personally, I hope it's a very, very, very long time.

#10 | Posted by TheTom at 2018-02-12 12:37 PM | Reply

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Soon if trump and the GOP have their way. But at least the Amish don't force it onto others; the GOP is ushering in a new Dark Ages. Science, medicine, mathematics, etc. will all fall to the wayside.

Pretty soon the GOP will convince its idiots that raw tomatoes are poison again and bloodletting/virgin sacrificing will bring back crops.

#11 | Posted by IndianaJones at 2018-02-12 02:49 PM | Reply

Run for russia ind, the sky is falling here in the USA.

#12 | Posted by Sniper at 2018-02-12 06:13 PM | Reply

Good to see Sniper is back to release three weeks of pent-up stupid.

#13 | Posted by REDIAL at 2018-02-12 06:24 PM | Reply

The real question is: How will the rich and corporations get their hands on all that Amish property?

#14 | Posted by SheepleSchism at 2018-02-12 06:44 PM | Reply

How will the rich and corporations get their hands on all that Amish property?

Same way they usually do... buy some government regulation.

#15 | Posted by REDIAL at 2018-02-12 06:49 PM | Reply

Soon if trump and the GOP have their way. But at least the Amish don't force it onto others; the GOP is ushering in a new Dark Ages. Science, medicine, mathematics, etc. will all fall to the wayside.

Pretty soon the GOP will convince its idiots that raw tomatoes are poison again and bloodletting/virgin sacrificing will bring back crops.

#11 | POSTED BY INDIANAJONES AT 2018-02-12 02:49 PM

DRama Queen Post of the Day (tm), well done, I guess.

#16 | Posted by Rightocenter at 2018-02-12 07:49 PM | Reply

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