LANCASTER, Pa. — The Amish are expanding their presence in states far beyond Pennsylvania Dutch country as they search for affordable farmland to accommodate a population that has nearly doubled in the past 16 years, a new study found.
States such as Missouri, Kentucky and Minnesota have seen increases in their Amish populations of more than 130 percent. The Amish now number an estimated 227,000 nationwide, up from 123,000 in 1992, according to researchers from Elizabethtown College's Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies.
Over the same period, Amish settlements have been established in seven new states, putting them in at least 28 states from coast to coast. The new states are: Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Washington and West Virginia.
"When we think they might be dying out or merely surviving, they are actually thriving," said Elizabethtown professor Don Kraybill, a leading expert on the Amish who shared his research from a forthcoming book.
Also known as Anabaptists, most Amish reject modern conveniences and rely on horse-drawn carriages. They began arriving in eastern Pennsylvania around 1730. Along with English, they speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch or Pennsylvania German.
Amish couples typically have five or more children. With more than four out of every five deciding in young adulthood to remain within the church, their population has grown steadily. More than half the population is under 21.
A small portion of the increase is also due to conversions to the faith.
The Amish are attracted to areas with relatively cheap farms, a rural lifestyle and nonfarming jobs such as construction or cabinetmaking that fit their values and allow them to remain independent. In some cases, they have migrated to resolve leadership problems or escape church-related disputes.
As they move into new areas, some of the conflicts that occurred years earlier in established Amish settlements are playing out again, often involving issues such as building codes or waste treatment. In Mayfield, Ky., an area into which a few hundred Amish have moved in recent years, nine men are fighting charges they operated horse-drawn buggies without the flashing lights or orange safety triangles that state law requires.
Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana continue to be the geographic center for the Amish, accounting for about two-thirds of the faith's population. They also accounted for more than half of the total population gain.
But eight states with at least 1,000 Amish residents had higher rates of growth, led by Kentucky, which saw its population jump 200 percent, from 2,835 to 8,505, the study found.
In Ontario, Canada, the only Amish community outside the United States also is growing. It consists of about 4,500 people, up from 2,300 in 1992. The arrival of the Amish can raise land prices, and their self-reliance translates into a relatively low burden on public services.
Kraybill said only families who use horse-drawn buggies and call themselves Amish were considered Amish for purposes of his research.