Low Crime Rates in Amish Counties: A Test of Institutional Anomie Theory

Jeong Hee Cho, University at Albany

Amish people are well known for their unique lifestyle in the U.S. Literature shows that they preserve collectivist, non-material, separatist norms, and maintain well-integrated social institutions. They are considered as the only people who have successfully resisted the cultural and social mainstream of the American society. Their criminal experience, however, has rarely been investigated. Although they are known as the most law-abiding people in the United States, major collective-level criminological theories have never been applied to explain low crime rates of Amish communities. The present paper, using 1990 county-level Census and UCR data of the three most Amish populated states (Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), attempts to test the institutional anomie theory. Institutional anomie theory posits that the cultural over-emphasis on individual achievement for material success, coupled with unbalanced institutional arrangement, causes high crime rates. Drawing on the theory, the level of Amish presence is hypothesized to be negatively associated with crime or arrest rates, because Amish people are not influenced by criminogenic American dream and their institutional arrangement seems well balanced. For the analysis, controlling for other baseline control variables, county-level crime and arrest rates for index, property,and violent crimes are regressed on the proportion of German language (including Pennsylvania Dutch) users at home, the approximate measure of the level of Amish presence in each County. Analysis of arrest rates provides consistent support for the institutional anomie theory, while evidence from the analysis of crime rates is mixed. Limitations of the study including the lack of precise measure of key variables are discussed, and strategies for further tests of institutional anomie theory are suggested.

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Updated 05/20/2006