Birth Rate, Mennonite (1953)

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Birth rates are discussed as crude and refined. The crude rate refers to the number of births per thousand of the total population without regard to any other factors. The refined, corrected, or standard birth rate refers to the number of births per thousand according to selected factors such as sex, age, occupation, income, or marital status. An illustration of refined birth rate would be the number of births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 45, which is generally considered the child-bearing period.

The birth rate in America and in Europe among the general population has been declining steadily since 1870. Although slight upturns have been noted since the late thirties and the early forties, the long-time decline is expected to continue. In 1940 the average American family size was about 3.75, reflecting a decline in the birth rate of about 30 per cent since 1850.

Among Mennonites the birth rate seems to vary according to physical and cultural environment. It is not possible to generalize about a Mennonite birth rate in all countries and in different branches of Mennonites. While no comprehensive study has ever been made of birth rate among Mennonites throughout the world, there is some evidence in America that Mennonite families in most groups are getting smaller, which of course means a declining birth rate. Local studies on Mennonite family size made among Mennonites in Elkhart County, Indiana, and in Marion and McPherson counties in Kansas in 1947 support the above generalization. The Indiana study clearly revealed that the birth rate had significantly declined in the last three generations in three of the four Mennonite groups studied. The rate of decline seemed to be in direct proportion to the degree of urbanization and accommodation to society. It was not due to a higher infant mortality rate or a later marriage age.

The Elkhart County Amish families averaged 8.8 children in the first generation (two generations ago), 9.4 in the second (one generation ago), and 8.7 in the third (the present generation). The Amish showed practically no decline in birth rate. In the same locality the figures for the (old) Mennonites were 7.0 children in the first generation, 5.9 in the second, and 4.8 in the third, for a decline of 2.2 children per family in three generations. A third group, namely, the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, revealed that the family size in the first generation was 7.7, 7.0 in the second, and 5.0 in the third, for a decline of 2.7 children per family in three generations. The fourth group, the General Conference Mennonites, had an average family size of 6.8 in the first generation, 5.8 in the second, and 3.9 children in the third, for a decline of 2.9 children per family in three generations. These figures were probably not a scientifically valid sample of Mennonite birth rate throughout America, but they reflected a general downward trend in a typical American Mennonite community. These figures also reflected the trend in America generally. A similar study done in a Kansas Mennonite Brethren congregation revealed that the average family sizes for the past three generations were: 7.0, 8.36, and 3.58. This decline reflects the same downward trend in the birth rate as found in the Indiana study.

According to statistics available on the number of children per family in the Chortitza Colony in Russia from 1890 to 1920, the average was seven. From 1920 to 1943 the family size sharply declined due to the violent interruption of the Soviet Revolution. Among the Old Colony Mennonites in Paraguay, a twenty-year record from 1931 to 1950 indicated an average family size of 5.6. The Fernheim Colony, which consisted of Mennonites who came from Russia in 1930, had an average family size of 5.2 for the same period. In Durango, Mexico, the average family size in 1943 was 5.3. These figures all pointed to a relatively high birth rate among Mennonites in Russia prior to 1920 and in Mexico and Paraguay within the 1950s generation. In the latter two countries, Mennonites had about two more children per family on the average than did the average American family in the 1950s.

The crude birth rate for a twenty-year period from 1931 to 1950 in the Menno and Fernheim colonies, Paraguay, was 54.1 and 44.4 respectively. This was higher than the national birth rate for any country in the world. Chile, the country with the highest birth rate in the world, stood at 34.6 per thousand, Japan at 29.9, the United States at 16.7, England and Wales, 14.8. The death rate for the same period in the two colonies referred to above was 11.8 for Menno and 7.6 for Fernheim. When compared with the four countries mentioned above, we see an even more phenomenal situation, namely, the low death rate in the colonies as compared with Chile, whose crude death rate in 1936 was 25.3; Japan 17.5; the United States 11.5; and England and Wales 12.1. It can be readily seen that the birth rate among these two oldest Paraguayan Mennonite colonies was still high. The twenty-year average annual net increase rate for Menno was 43.0 and 36.0 for Fernheim.

The chief reason for a declining birth rate in the United States among Mennonites seemed to be the general process of urbanization. More and more Mennonites in North America preferred fewer children and better opportunities and material advantages. Planned parenthood was another factor accounting in part for a declining birth rate. Modern urban conditions were not conducive to large families. The high cost of housing, the crowded living conditions, and, perhaps more important, the fact that children might be an economic liability rather than an asset were other reasons for declining birth rate.

The decline in birth rate might either be a short- or a long-term trend, depending upon the general economic, social, and political conditions at any period of time. It is conceivable that if social and economic conditions significantly changed, either due to natural or artificial causes, larger families would again become an asset and thus the birth rate would increase. It is safe to conclude on the basis of evidence at hand that as Mennonite educational and economic levels rise, the family size tends to decline. The material comforts and cultural satisfactions seem to be preferred to increasing numbers of children. The desire for good education and high economic status reflects a preference for material and social quality rather than biological quantity. In this respect many of the Mennonites follow the general trends and reflect many of the general secular values, although more slowly and less conspicuously.


Ehrt, A. Das Mennonitentum in Russland von seiner Einwanderung bis zur Gegenwart. Berlin-Leipzig, 1932.

Fretz, J. Winfield. Pilgrims in Paraguay: the story of Mennonite colonization in South America. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1953.

Good, Howard. "A Study in Mennonite Family Trends in Elkhart County, Indiana." Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Conference on Mennonite Cultural Problems (1947).

Neufeld, I. G. "The Life Cycle of Mennonite Families in Marion County, Kansas." Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Conference on Mennonite Cultural Problems (1947).

Stumpp, Kark. Bericht über das Gebiet Chortitza: im Generalbezirk Dnjepropetrowsk. Berlin: Publikationsstelle Ost, 1943.

Author(s) J. Winfield Fretz
Date Published 1953

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MLA style

Fretz, J. Winfield. "Birth Rate, Mennonite (1953)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 24 Jun 2024.,_Mennonite_(1953)&oldid=102066.

APA style

Fretz, J. Winfield. (1953). Birth Rate, Mennonite (1953). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 June 2024, from,_Mennonite_(1953)&oldid=102066.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 345-347. All rights reserved.

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