- A Young Man’s Benefit: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Sickness Insurance in the United States and Canada, 1860–1929 by George Emery and J.C. Herbert Emery (review)
- The Canadian Historical Review
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 82, Number 1, March 2001
- pp. 191-192
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews 191 A Young Man's Bene.fit: The Independent Order ofOdd Fellows and Sickness Insurance in the United States and Canada, 1860-1929. GEORGE EMERY and J.C. HERBERT EMERY. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press 1999. Pp. xvi, 184. $39·95 At its peak in 1921 the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, by far the largest friendly society in North America, provided insurance against the loss ofincome due to illness for almost 1.9 million members in 16,000 lodges. By 1994 membership had declined to just 115,000 men. 'Why,' ask George Emery and J.C. Herbert Emery, has 'the IOOF ceased to be an important source ofsickness insurance'? In answer, the Emerys reject hypotheses that the IOOF could not compete with commercial insurers, that the introduction ofgovernment welfare plans removed the need for sickness insurance, and that the IOOF and its practices were not financially sound. Instead, they offer a demographic interpretation. Health insurance was 'a young man's benefit' that appealed to men who, because oftheir age, lacked any alternative to market insurance. They had neither the savings nor the incomes ofother family members to tide them through the loss ofwages while ill. Once they had secured themselves in other ways against the threat ofillness to income, often in only a few years after joining, many quit the lodge or remained primarily to enjoy its social functions. The authors have adopted a somewhat idiosyncratic research design for their topic, in part as a result of its continental scale and in part because of the uneven quality and quantity of their sources. Records from head office, the Sovereign Grand Council, are 'comprehensive,' with annual reports and statistics and bylaws at regular intervals. For the Grand Lodges, records of bylaws and semi-annual returns are more scattered and uneven, and remain in the provincial and state offices. The authors examined those for British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Michigan. At the local lodge level, they looked at records oftwenty-seven British Columbia lodges and four Ontario ones (supplemented with a 1910-11 Toronto directory of Odd Fellows). In consequence, different conclusions rest on different sources for different locales. The authors dismiss the significance of national variations in their study, ·but I still wonder about variations from place to place, especially when alternative means of insurance may well have varied geographically . Their argument's strength is its appreciation ofdemographic factors. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, becoming an Odd Fellow asserted an ethno-religious identity that distinguished young, 192 The Canadian Historical Review healthy, morally respectable Anglo Protestant men, with well-paying jobs or lower-middle-class status, from the growing 'foreign' elements. Such men found two reasons to join. First was the order's sickness insurance. Second were various social advantages, from useful business and work connections to the camaraderie and ritual that made men confident insiders in an exclusive group. Those for whom the need for insurance dominated did not stay long in the order. 'On average,' the authors discovered, 'Odd Fellows quit their lodge within five years ofjoining' and 'only a third ofjoiners lasted until age forty-five.' Once their savings seemed sufficient or their families had matured to include additional income earners, insurance was less important to them. Longer-term and older Odd Fellows were less committed to the sick benefit. Their influence may have been one reason for the IOOF reducing its provisions for sick benefits after 1890 and later making it optional. The Emerys reject operational inefficiency as an explanation for the undermining of the mandatory sick benefit. The recruitment of clients by lodge brothers and administration by lodge officers kept overhead low. Close moral scrutiny avoided poor risks, and the fraternal interest of lodge members in one another's well-being made deception difficult. Moreover, the appeal of the order to young men, whose risk of illness was lower than average, allowed lodges to accumulate reserves for a time when older members with higher claim rates were more common. Nor do the authors find much evidence for increasing competition from other insurers as a cause for decline before 1929 - after certainly, but not before. George...