Health and Well-being in Amish Society: Assessing Cultures of Well-Being

“Assessing Cultures of Well-Being” was a panel during session three of the 2019 Amish Conference, Health and Well-being in Amish Society, held June 6 through 8, hosted by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. A full listing of the presentations, as well as abstracts, can be found on the Young Center’s website.

“Mobile Internet Is Worse than the Internet; It Can Destroy Our Community”: Old Order Amish and Ultra-Orthodox Women’s Responses to Cell Phone and Smartphone Use, Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar

  • Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar is a senior lecturer at Sapir Academic College in Sderot, Israel, and teaches courses in research methods, communication, religion, and gender. Shahar presented a case study on the use of cell phones and smart phones among women in the Old Order Amish of Pennsylvania and the Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. The study investigated three questions: what is the usage pattern of cell phone and smart phone among the women in these communities; what are the women’s perceptions on the use of cell phones and smart phones; and what symbolic meanings do the women attribute to these devices. The study was conducted from 2012 to 2019 and used participant observation, interviews, and surveys.
  • The study found the following patterns: five percent of the Amish women own a cell phone, but sixty percent of them responded positively to the question “Have you ever used a mobile phone.” Ninety percent of the surveyed Ultra-Orthodox women owned a cell phone, and one hundred percent had made use of one. No one in either group owns a smart phone.
  • The perception of mobile phones is largely negative. Complaints include that the content is not good, the phones take too much time, and the phones are counter to community values. One Ultra-Orthodox participant reflected, “The smart phone is the most dangerous device . . . it has impure content, everything is there.”
  • Shahar concluded that Amish and Ultra-Orthodox women help us view the mass use of mobile phones from an outside perspective, such as by treating smart phones as transitional objects (working from an Attachment theory context) that move towards enmeshment in body and soul.

“The Dawdihaus: A Noun and a Verb, the Life and Voices of Loved Ones that Extend Generations. A Study in Rural Health and Rural Gerontology among the Amish and Other Plain People,” Claire Marie Mensack

  • Claire Marie Mensack is a community health educator with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and is an adjunct assistant professor at Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina. Mensack started by placing the Amish treatment of the elderly in the context of the rapidly aging United States population in which everyone is living longer, but are living longer with more disease and disability. In this context, the Amish are part of aging populations because the Amish use hospice and other sources of medical care. The Dawdihaus (lit. grandfather house) is a family dwelling, either attached or separated from the main house, used by the aging parents of adult children. This allows aging individuals to remain in close proximity to their family. It can be understood as one outcome of Amish collectivism.
  • Mensack pulled case studies from three communities: The Nebraska Amish in the Kishacoquillas Valley (also known as Kish Valley or Big Valley); the Delaware Amish; and the Union Grove North Carolina Amish (New Order Amish, established in 1995, only in partial fellowship with other New Order Amish settlements). Coming from a public health background, Mensack used a “walk along, go along method” commonly used to study health issues, focusing on how place and space influence health.
  • In the Nebraska Amish case study, the Dawdihaus was added by a family in 1999, twenty-five years after the main house was built. When the couple moved into the Dawdihaus , they moved their oldest daughter into the main house. In the Dover Delaware Amish case study, a family also built a Dawdihaus in 1999, but thirty-nine years after the main house was built. Again, the oldest daughter and her family moved into the main house. Notably, in the North Carolina group, the parents did not choose to move into a Dawdihaus —their children met separately and decided to move their parents into one.
  • In the question and answer session, Donald Kraybill noted that among Lancaster, Pennsylvania Amish, it seems to be the youngest son who takes the main house when the parents move into the Dawdihaus. This is not a prescribed transition, however, and varies with the family and their circumstances.

“Anomie, Egoism, and the Amish: A Durkheimian Examination,” Robert A. Strikwerda 

  • Robert A. Strikwerda is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies and director of the Global and Local Social Justice Program at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. He gave a theoretical consideration of Anomie and Amish society that followed a Durkheimian model, and he included a primary consideration of Amish suicide rates.
  • The Amish have a high degree of integration and regulation, with a culture of “giving way” as a mode of discipline. Face-to-face interaction is key, which is why church districts are kept small. The Amish context does allow some agency, which prevents an unhealthy amount of integration. This can be seen in the individual’s choice to join the church and to choose a spouse. Agency in Amish communities can also be seen in permitted geographic mobility as well as free choice in business.