The Economic Reasoning of “Ultimogeniture” of Amish Farms

My younger son’s family visited the nearby Amish country and did a tour of several farms. The guide mentioned that the youngest son usually takes over the farm from his father. The older brothers typically learn trades. She thought this happens because the father isn’t ready to give up the farm when the older brothers reach adulthood.

My economic explanation is that this minimizes the frequency of paying estate taxes (no longer a very binding constraint, but it was until quite recently). Perhaps this “ultimogeniture” is an illustration of an unusual excess burden generated by estate taxes. Or perhaps there’s another explanation? (Related: check out Freakonomics Radio on “The Church of ‘Scionology.'”)


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  1. Bill Harshaw says:

    The Amish have been growing their population religiously for hundreds of years, spreading into new areas where they can find relatively good and cheap farmland (i.e., upstate New York). The growth means it’s likely some of the older sons and their spouses are the migrants. It’s only relatively recently that the Amish have diversified into trades, like furniture.

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  2. Johan J. says:

    maybe some form of benjamin behaviour? Stereotypical older son has earned responsibilities very young, the jonger person stays at home?
    BTW: mentioning benjamin in a religious context. Cain, was older and a hunter. Abe was a farmer. Jacob was a younger sun and less rough than his older brother. Benjamin/Joseph also seem to stay home more, and David was bringing food to his brothers in the army.
    Maybe they have taken a religious observation and applied it to their conetext?

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  3. Pete Beckary says:

    I hail from Intercourse, Lancaster County, PA… the oldest Amish/Mennonite community in the US… surprising that the father will sell the farm to the next generation.. it is not simply handed down as you would expect. There is an extreme obsession with money in these groups – I liken it to drug abuse or alcoholism… Not something the outside world knows until you’ve been here a while.

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