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Contents

Introduction

Rural agricultural societies tend to be more homogenous, that is, members of such societies are not greatly differentiated by status, prestige, income, and occupation because almost everyone does the same agricultural work for a living. However, as industrialization sets in and urbanization begins, occupational specialties and differential rewards develop, increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. Differential social strata emerge so that a society becomes layered into higher and lower classes. Most industrialized countries of Europe and North America, as well as Japan and others have become highly stratified. Whereas many Mennonites in the recent past were agriculturalists (some in The Netherlands have been urban longer), they too are beginning to urbanize greatly in North America and Europe. To what extent are they also stratified into social classes?

We can examine the social class of Mennonites by using indicators of socioeconomic status such as education, income, and occupation, or we can also examine class as economic and political power groups which may be in conflict. We expect that Mennonites in developing countries of Latin America, Asia, and Africa will still be less stratified than Mennonites in industrial countries of North America and Europe. Since comparative data on world Mennonites are limited, let us concentrate on the half (46.1 percent in 1984) of the Mennonites of the world living in industrialized North America where some data are available.

Table 1

Comparison of Educational, Income, and Occupational Status

of Canadians by Religious Groups, 1981

(To sort the table click on a heading)

Religious Denomination Education (Post Secondary) Income (Mean) Occupation (Professional) Composite Rank
Jewish
55.6%
$19,529
45.5%
1
No Religion
50.8%
$14,854
30.4%
2
All Other Religions
59.7%
$12,734
36.2%
3
Anglican
41.4%
$13,661
27.1%
4
United Church
40.7%
$13,693
25.6%
5
Other Protestant
46.6%
$12,586
27.8%
6
Presbyterian
39.5%
$13,334
24.4%
7
Mormon
48.3%
$12,412
24.4%
8
Lutheran
40.4%
$13,303
22.3%
9
Ukrainian Catholic
32.8%
$12,421
22.9%
10
Reformed Bodies
40.6%
$12,306
21.6%
11
Baptist
37.5%
$11,740
22.4%
12
Roman Catholic
35.9%
$12,293
22.4%
13
Eastern Orthodox
32.0%
$12,395
18.9%
14
Mennonite
31.8%
$11,809
21.0%
15
Pentecostal
32.1%
$10,782
17.7%
16
Salvation Army
26.2%
$10,317
17.3%
17
Jehovah's Witness
26.8%
$10,317
11.9%
18
Hutterite
1.1%
$11,392
10.4%
19
Total Population
39.1%
$12,993
24.4%
 
 

Socioeconomic Status

Canada is one of the few countries which collects data about religion as part of its census and, fortunately, the Mennonites (.8 percent of the population) are included. Using education, income, and occupation as socioeconomic indicators, we compare 19 religious groupings in Table 1, and find that on each of the three indicators Mennonites rank in the third and lowest stratum. One third (31.8 percent) of them had more than high school education, their income averaged $11,809 in 1984, and one fifth worked in the professions. Many Mennonites in Canada may be upwardly mobile, but compared to other Canadians, Mennonites are still below the national average socioeconomically.

Findings in the United States suggest that Mennonites there may be more comparable to the American national average. The Kauffman and Harder study comparing five Mennonite groups in the United States and Canada in the 1970s shows that 31.9 percent had studied beyond high school, 15.9 percent were professional and technical workers, and that the median income was $9,608. Mennonites are still more heavily involved in agriculture and this tends to bring the socioeconomic status down. However, Kauffman and Harder found that socioeconomic status varied considerably by Mennonite groups, with General Conference Mennonites scoring highest on education, and Mennonites of the Evangelical Mennonite Church earning the highest incomes. Michael Yoder's survey of members of the Mennonite Church in the United States (1982) showed that 37.1 percent had studied beyond high school, and 21.1 percent were in professional and technical occupations (only 11.8 percent in farming). Because the present analysis includes data from 1972 (Kauffman/Harder), 1981 (Canadian census), and 1982, figures are not always comparable.

Influence and Power

Studies of the socioeconomic status of Mennonites in North America suggest that they are moving from mostly agricultural occupations to higher educational, income, and occupational levels especially as industrialization and urbanization sets in. Karl Marx was interested in social class as power; he concluded that the capitalists wielded too much power over the laboring masses, and a greater balance was necessary. Since historically the Anabaptists were usually the persecuted underdogs in Europe, they were for the most part powerless. Some scholars contend that they were a part of the mass movement of the peasant wars in the 16th century although Harold Bender and Paul Peachey do not think so (historiography).

The studies of Coenen and Krahn suggest that the Dutch Anabaptist movement was more urban, more professional, and more dominated by artisans (who were relatively more mobile socially) than was the Swiss and South German Anabaptist movement. Persecution did not eradicate the Anabaptists from Dutch cities as much as was the case in Switzerland, and toleration set in more quickly, possibly because of the more lenient, commercial, industrial, pluralist, tendencies in the north. Thus, the Dutch-North German Anabaptists were a movement of higher social status. A number of Dutch Mennonites entered politics and became cabinet ministers with considerable power. This pro-urban predilection, according to Penner, seemed to remain when Dutch Anabaptists settled in the Vistula area in Prussia.

Agricultural work involved considerable skills in engineering and building of dams and drainage, often near such large commercial cities as Danzig and Elbing (water technology). Some Mennonites became influential in business.

Migrations from Prussia to Russia, and later to Canada and the United States, seemed to involve a social class selection process. The first Mennonites who moved to the Chortitza colony in Russia (1789), were largely leaderless artisans who, according to D. H. Epp, had little experience in farming. They were followed by more educated Mennonites who established the Molotschna colony in 1803. John B. Toews documents the considerable extent of industrialization of Mennonites in Russia later, including the emergence of some wealthy entrepreneurs.

There is some debate on the extent to which Russian Mennonites became wealthy, and whether they brought on themselves the wrath of Russian peasants during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1920. This requires more research.

The early Mennonite migrants from Russia to North America in the 1870s were often landless and less well-to-do. They seemed to value education less than those who remained in Russia, as indicated by the Old Colony Mennonites in Canada and Mexico.

The more educated, landowners migrated to Canada only in the 1920s, after many had obtained higher education, and undertaken professions and industrial and commercial enterprises. Some Mennonites in North America in the 1980s were becoming more wealthy and some are also entering politics. Mennonite economic and political power is still minimal, but it seems to be increasing. This too requires more study.

See also Demography; Sociological Studies

[edit] Bibliography

Heaton, Tim B. "Socio-Demographic Characteristics of Religious Groups in Canada." Sociological Analysis 47 (1986): 54-65.

Kauffman, J. Howard and Harder, Leland, eds. Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: A Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations. Scottdale, PA : Herald Press, 1975

Redekop, Calvin W. Old Colony Mennonites. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press, 1969: 93-111.

Yoder, Michael L. "Findings from the 1982 Mennonite Census." Mennonite Quarterly Review, 59 (1985): 307-349.


Author(s) Leo Driedger
Date Published 1989


[edit] Cite This Article

MLA style

Driedger, Leo. "Social Class." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 21 Dec 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Social_Class&oldid=77804.

APA style

Driedger, Leo. (1989). Social Class. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 December 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Social_Class&oldid=77804.




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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 831-832. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.


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