Family

family-walking brothersfamily-in-buggyAmish men and women usually assume traditional and well-defined gender roles. Husbands carry the primary responsibility for the financial well-being of the family. Wives typically devote themselves to housekeeping and motherhood. As in most families, gender roles in Amish marriages vary by personality; there are shades of dominance from husband to wife across a wide spectrum, with many variations. In nonfarm families, typically the husband is the primary breadwinner, but in cases where a wife owns a business, she may provide most of the family income. When husbands work at home, there is often considerable sharing of roles—women assisting in the barn or shop, and men in the garden or around the house.

Women with young children almost never hold full-time jobs outside the home, although some manage at-home stores, greenhouses, or bakeries. In some communities, single women or those whose children are grown operate their own businesses.

Amish women share in household decision-making and child discipline, even as they affirm the man’s role as the religious head of the home. Although the father serves as the spiritual head of the home, mothers are very active in nurturing the spiritual life of children. The husband is responsible for religious matters related to the church and the outside world.

Networks of extended families provide a strong sense of identity in Amish society. The family provides a dense web of social support from cradle to grave. Adult sisters may gather once a month for a “sisters’ day,” a frolic that mixes work and fun while harvesting vegetables, cleaning house, or making quilts. Family members help one other during emergencies, fires or floods, and, of course, when a death occurs.

The Amish do not have retirement homes. The elderly normally live in an apartment in the home of one of their children or in a Grossdawdy Haus, a small adjacent house. Esteemed for their wisdom, the elderly find meaning and dignity as they assist their adult children. Surrounded by droves of grandchildren, they pass on the wisdom, joys, and secrets of Amish life to the rising generation.

Additional information

  • See chapter 11, “Gender and Family,” in Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, The Amish (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).
  • John A. Hostetler and Gertrude Enders Huntington, Amish Children: Education in the Family, School, and Community, 2nd ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1992).

About the site

Amish Studies is an academic website developed by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College to provide reliable information on Amish life and culture. Designed to assist scholars, students and the general public, the site was developed with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Amish population statistics are updated annually in the summer. Other information is updated periodically.

For more in-depth discussion about the Amish:
The Amish book cover

Authors: Donald Kraybill, Karen Johnson-Weiner, and Steven Nolt (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013; paperback, 2018)

Recent books

In partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Press, the Young Center Books in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies publishes innovative and creative scholarship. The latest volume in the series explores the Amish relationship with the environment:
Nature and the Environment in Amish Life book cover
Authors: David McConnell and Marilyn Loveless (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)