There are many stereotypes about the Amish. Some are true, but most are false, or partly false and partly true. In this post, I will examine 12 of them. But first I want to briefly ashover the differences between stereotypes, prejudice, and racism.
(Scroll to the end or click here for the audio/video version of this post.)
The article “Stereotyping From the Perspective of Perceivers and Targets” by Khan, Benda, and Stagnaro (2012) in Online Readings in Psychology and Culture defines concepts such as prejudice, stereotypes, and racism and their relationship to each other.
The authors say that “stereotypes are most generally defined as ‘beliefs about the characteristics, attributes, and behaviors of members of certain groups’. On the other hand, “racism is . . . .
. . . behavior that is discriminative against a particular social group”, and “prejudice can be thought of as one’s affective or emotional response to members of a particular social group”.
Stereotype #1: All Amish people are the same.
The Amish vary quite a bit, ranging from extremely strict (e.g., not allowing the use of chainsaws) to “liberal” (e.g., allowing the use of computers and cell phones for business purposes). Some Amish are much more strict in terms of lifestyle than others.
Websites, social media, and academic articles often mislead readers as to what is meant by “Amish”. This post defines the Amish, spin-off groups (e.g., New Order Amish, Beachy Amish, and Amish Mennonites), and other common points of confusion.
Each Amish community is relatively self-governing with their own rules or laws. Amish communities with the same rules are part of an informal club or alliance, meaning that they tend to associate with each other more than with Amish communities that have different rules.
Stereotype #2: The Amish go to church.
False . . . kind of. This one is kind of a trick question.
The Amish don’t have church buildings! Church services are held in homes, changing homes each time. Actually, at least one Amish community has a church building. In general, though, if the service is in a dedicated building, that’s a clear indicator that the group isn’t Amish.
Stereotype #3: Amish people speak Pennsylvania Dutch, German, or Old English.
Amish people speak . . . well, Amish. The Amish language is derived from German, which gives it a similar sound to German but makes it unintelligible to German speakers. Amish is only a spoken language, so they’re taught to read and write in English. All Amish in the United States also speak English, but not fluently.
Stereotype #4: Amish men are farmers.
True . . . and false.
Traditionally, the Amish were mostly farmers. But for the past 50+ years, the number of Amish farmers has steadily, rather quickly, decreased. This is because the Amish simply can’t compete with modern technology and Big Ag. Today, most Amish men earn a living in other areas, such as construction, factory work, and puppy mills.
Amish men, women, and children work various jobs. Additional common jobs for Amish are selling goods (e.g., handmade furniture, produce, etc.) at markets and running other home-based businesses (e.g., dry goods stores, window installation shops, etc.).
Stereotype #5: Amish people don’t pay taxes.
It’s often thought that the Amish don’t pay any taxes, but the only taxes they don’t pay are the ones that fund things they’re not consumers of (like social security or unemployment). The Amish pay income taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes. They don’t pay taxes for Social Security or taxes for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.
Stereotype #6: The Amish don’t use any electricity or technology.
False . . . depending on which end of the spectrum (strict to “liberal”) they’re on.
As I said in #1, the Amish vary quite a bit. How much technology or electricity is allowed depends on which community you’re in. Some of the technology that might be allowed at Amish residences are gas-powered chainsaws, gas-powered lawn mowers, air tools powered by gas generators, and hay balers. Some household technologies that might be allowed are propane gas-powered stoves and refrigerators, flushable toilets, running hot and cold water, and gas-powered washing machines.
It’s often thought that the Amish aren’t allowed to use phones, but most are. The main thing to know is that they’re not allowed to have phones inside their homes. Many Amish families have phone shacks on their property for shared community use! Others use their non-Amish neighbors’ or taxi drivers’ phones when needed.
Stereotype #7: Amish people don’t travel outside of their communities.
Amish people sometimes work outside of their communities. They also leave their communities for shopping and traveling purposes.
Stereotype #8: The Amish only travel by horse and buggy.
Horse and buggy is the primary mode of transportation for the Amish, but they also travel in other ways. Although the Amish don’t own or drive cars, they do ride in them when necessary. They pay non-Amish people to drive them. They also travel by bus or train when going further distances!
Stereotype #9: Amish people only wear Puritan- or Pilgrim-style dark-colored clothing with no patterns and frills.
True! Well, mostly true.
One big distinction between the Amish and other Anabaptist groups, including Amish offshoots, is their dress code. Amish people wear clothing without imagery, patterns or abstracts, multiple colors (just solid, single-color fabric), and frills or decorative aspects. The clothes are cut in a style that goes to great length to hide the person’s curves and skin. More “liberal” Amish groups allow lighter colors but never imagery, patterns/abstracts, and multi-colored fabric.
Men wear a style of pant referred to as broadfall pants that don’t have zippers. They also wear straw hats (usually for everyday wear during summers) and black broad-brimmed hats (usually only for church and other similar official events). They grow a beard after marriage. Women wear long dresses and white caps with strings. They never cut their hair or wear jewelry and makeup. They put their hair up in a bun, which is covered by a cap or scarf, depending on the occasion.
Stereotype #10: Amish culture includes music.
False, for the most part.
The Amish aren’t supposed to sing, dance, or play instruments for entertainment. (The only exception is in communities that allow their schoolchildren to perform songs for Christmas and/or to celebrate the end of the school year.) The Amish are allowed to sing solo or with others in their homes. German hymns are sung during church services — but without musical instruments and part-singing. Some communities allow harmonicas, which are usually played in the home or at youth group events. The harmonica is never allowed in church services. It’s common for Amish people to sing in their homes, either as part of a religious practice or as they go about their work.
Many Amish sing German hymns set to e.g., Johnny Cash tunes. Why? Check out this post titled “Why Do the Amish Sing Religious Hymns That Sound Like Johnny Cash Songs?“.
Stereotype #11: The Amish don’t use modern medicine.
Amish people typically first self-medicate with home remedies, homeopathy, over-the-counter solutions, or other methods handed down generation after generation. However, if ailment continues without improvement, the Amish will seek modern healthcare. Amish people aren’t allowed to have insurance and typically pay out-of-pocket for healthcare, which means that most children, and adults, go without routine preventive healthcare. Because healthcare is expensive, many children and adults don’t get adequate treatment for even more serious issues.
The Amish believe that insurance shows a lack of submissiveness to God, and they have a very stoic view of death: if it’s God’s will that a child or woman dies without adequate healthcare, so be it.
Stereotype #12: The Amish population is increasing.
We don’t understand why non-Amish “scholars” or other non-Amish “experts” claim that the Amish are one of the fast-growing — if not the fastest-growing — ethnic groups in the United States. A huge myth they’ve published and popularized is that the Amish population doubles about every 20 years and is expected to continue growing.
They don’t factor in that the Amish population also dies off at essentially the same rate as that of the births. It’s impossible for the Amish to forever double in number every 20 years, because they forbid recruiting/converting outsiders and marrying non-Amish.
What could be true is that the Amish temporarily doubled in number during a 20-year span in the past 40 years. That would be due to a variety of factors such as longer life expectancy thanks to modern medicine, an overall increase in the average number of children per family, and/or an even higher retention rate. However, the average Amish family doesn’t exceed 9-10 children and a significant number of families have on average 6 children.
The average Amish family would have to forever increase the number of children they have in order for the Amish population to forever increase or double in size, per the current myth circulated by “scholars” and “experts”.
Watch/Listen to the Audio/Video
Scroll to the end for the audio/video version of this post.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
FREE QUIZ: How much do you actually know about the Amish? ➜ https://www.AmishHeritage.org/amish-quiz
Curious about Amish life and culture? Join the FREE monthly-ish Amish Insider & get a link to download “4 Popular Myths About the Amish” ➜ https://www.AmishHeritage.org/news
WANT SOME ONE-ON-ONE HELP? Or Want Torah Bontrager to Speak? If you or your school, department, or organization are interested, Torah gives customized presentations or guest lectures via Zoom and culturally sensitive webinar trainings for students, educators, health and legal professionals, social workers, and law enforcement. Email or text/WhatsApp +1-212-634-4255 for more info.