Trends in Vocational Shift among the Amish Essay
Two simultaneous trends describe vocational shift among the Amish.
One is the movement away from agriculture because of internal and external pressures. The other is the development and growth in importance of other economic activities within the Amish community. These two trends describe the socio-cultural and economic transformation occurring in the Amish community and the manner of adaptation to forces of change expressed through the shift in vocation. Kollmorgen (1943) explained that the Amish community’s persecution led to the preference for isolation and the development of self-sufficiency through agriculture.
During the 19th century, the Amish communities across the United States existed largely in isolation from the outside world. Their ability to live within a system to the exclusion of the outside world was due to their access to agricultural land allowing them to become self-sufficient. With the ability to provide for their basic needs, the Amish need not venture outside of the community or mingle with other people, lest interaction should taint their beliefs and practices.The reliance on agriculture aligned with the establishment of what Ediger (1997) called as parochial schools within the community and exclusive for children in the community. The curriculum in the parochial schools revolved around four subjects, which are reading, language arts, arithmetic and religion. The development of the curriculum revolved around the assumption that these basic subjects are the only things necessary to support the persistence of its agricultural sector, the ability to communicate, calculate input and output, and exercise stewardship of God’s creation.
For decades, the Amish communities were able to maintain their way of life. However, during the 20th century and persisting towards the 21st century, the Amish communities experienced strong pressures on its agricultural sector. Stoltzfus (1973) explained the need to compete with large agribusinesses operating through technological tools comprise a pressure on the agricultural sector. Although the Amish agricultural sector is subsistence and small-scale at the least, these communities sell to their produce to the wider community for the purchase of agricultural implements and other needs.
Competition based on price and volume from large agribusiness firms makes it harder for the Amish communities to sell their produce. Smith et al. (1997) further explained that the revitalization programs for the rural economy focus on the income generation and business growth, which are objectives that do not complement the Amish agricultural production. Bennett (2003) added that interventionist policies in the wider community comprise an important factor challenging the sustainability of the agricultural sector such as in the Amish communities in Canada.The preference for the development of land for large-scale agricultural production as a means of developing the rural economy clashes with the subsistence agricultural practices of the Amish communities.
As early as in the 1980s, Foster (1984) reported that 31 percent of Amish heads of households engaged in agricultural work, 37 percent were involved in traditional but non-farming work, and 32 percent work in non-traditional sectors such as factory work.Although the data came from a survey of 891 households in three counties in Ohio, which may not represent the entire Amish population, the data still reflects the vocational shift from agricultural at least in Amish communities in the Ohio area. During the 1990s, Lowery and Noble (2000) compared employment statistics for 1973 and 1997 and found that in 1973, half of household heads engaged in agriculture but this has declined to one-fifth by 1997. Donnermeyer and Cooksey (2004) explained the decline in the number of Amish males engaged in farming because the availability of agricultural land has not kept up with the growth in population.A survey of 9,000 households showed that less than ten percent of male households engage in agriculture.
This represents a radical decline when compared to statistics in the previous decades. A corroborating data is from church records showing that in 1988, 26. 7 percent of churches had male members primarily engaged in agriculture but by 1995, only 7. 7 percent of churches reported that the primary economic activity of their household head members is agriculture. The percentage of households engaged in agriculture should continue to decline with stronger internal and external pressures.
Integration of statistical data shows the declining trend in Amish household engagement in agricultural activities. Vocation shift is primarily towards non-agricultural but traditional sectors and non-traditional sectors but more so in non-traditional sectors. Murtineau and MacQueen (1974) identified the traditional non-agriculture sectors providing alternative modes of employment to Amish household heads as carpentry, masonry, smithy, harness making, and other similar handicraft sectors. Non-traditional sectors of employment encompass welding, mechanics and factory work.
Lowery and Noble (2000) explained that in 1997, factory work or manufacturing comprised the biggest employment opportunity for Amish males followed by woodwork and then by construction work. Donnermeyer and Cooksey (2004) added that during the 1990s, the people involved in carpentry showed the highest growth but factory work was also a popular occupation. Olshan (1991) and Kresp, Donnermeyer and Kreps (1994) reported the rapid growth in micro-enterprises in different Amish communities across the United States.Smith et al.
(1997) added business or micro-enterprise as the developing alternative occupation for Amish communities in the future. The viability of micro-enterprises is the alignment with rural community development programs of the wider community, which means that Amish households would receive support from the state in developing their own small businesses. As such, in the future, Amish communities would likely engage more in non-traditional occupations.