The shape of high fertility in a traditional Mennonite population

Ann Hum Biol. Sep-Dec 2006;33(5-6):557-69. doi: 10.1080/03014460600931137.


Background: The Wenger Mennonites, a traditional horse-and-buggy group, are one of at least 30 embedded Anabaptist religious groups in the USA.

Aim: This first study of Wenger fertility documents, explains, and compares Wenger fertility to three other Anabaptist groups: the Amish, the Hutterites, and the Old Colony Mennonites.

Subjects and methods: The 1997 Wenger church directory provides household and fertility data for 14530 individuals. This directory was transformed into an SPSS database so that age-specific birth rates could be analysed.

Results: From 1966 to 1996, total fertility ranged from 10.68 to 8.31 for married women, and age-specific fertility rates for 20-24-year-old women never dropped below 0.500. For similar time periods, no higher rates were found in any of the comparison groups. Even so, fertility has dropped over 22% in the last 30 years, suggesting increasing regulation of fertility.

Conclusion: Wenger fertility has been very high, at least since the 1960s, and continues to be higher than the comparison groups, even though there is some evidence of fertility decline, especially in older women. This high fertility is powered by high economic and social capital, and a farming community with a strong pro-natalist ideology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Distribution
  • Cohort Studies
  • Contraception
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Parity
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion*
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States