Is Membership in Fraternal Organizations Dwindling?

As World War II-era adults die off, Baby Boomers approach retirement, and we Gen-Xers start to approach early middle age, I’m inclined to ask about something that has always seemed (to me) to be the purvey of old men. That is, fraternal organizations (like the Masons, the Elks, the Shriners, etc.).

First of all, those old 50’s and 60’s TV shows that I grew up watching reruns of continually referenced men going to “the lodge.” Fred Flinstone was always trouncing off the Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo; Ralph Kramden had his; etc.

I have never seen a reference to a men’s (or women’s) fraternal organization in any modern TV show, save one. That one was Everybody Loves Raymond, and on the ELR episode, the whole plot was about how Frank’s lodge was populated with old & dying men and how they could use some new blood.

Furthermore, I’ve never known a member of any such fraternity who wasn’t an old (or middle-aged) man. My wife’s grandfather, a Mason, is pushing 80. Her uncle, who is officially a Mason but who hasn’t seen the inside of a lode in 10 years, is 45. And let’s not forget the Shriners, who ride by in parades every year and who all appear to be at least 70.

So, yeah, is membership in fraternal organizations (excluding college frats, naturally) a thing of the past? Are the Masons, the Elks, the Moose, etc. all in danger of going out of business (so to speak) as their members assume room temperature?

I would say yes. My job puts me into contact with Lion’s, Elk’s, Rotarians, Optimists, etc. on a regular basis. The only club I see with a thriving membership is Rotary, and that is mainly due to the business connections you can make there. It would be nice if VFW clubs became extinct…

I am afraid you are right. It appears that Lodge membership (and membership in everything else like volunteer fire companies) declines as television eats more and more of our free time.

Ever read the book ‘Bowling Alone?’ Really a shame.

It’s not entirely TV. Lodges used to be also a way to netwrok, and now dudes use work sources and professional associations for that. Lodges used to do a lot of volunteer work, but now that’s done by other agencies- some of which still get lots of volunteers. For about a hundred years- 1850-1905 lodges were a critical part of American life, but not so much anymore. Many of us belong to specialized clubs instead- Games, model trains, sports, whatever.

The Masons are still doing fairly well, AFAIK. I know several younger Masons. And to some extent Veterans associations.

But there were scads of them- Moose, Elk, Eagles, Wolves, Oddfellows, Lions, Optimists, Foresters…

Unless there are two groups with the same name, the Foresters are a women’s group, the female equivalent to the Knights of Columbus (yet another fraternal organization, made up of Catholic men).

I suspect there are at least two groups going by the name of Foresters. The Ancient Order of Foresters are a moderately obscure British friendly society. They seem to be active, but their website is currently down. Judging by the photo on that site, they now admit women, but this page suggests that they were originally much more like a masonic society.

[From direct observation, they have a branch in Birmingham that’s currently sitting empty and derelict.]

Yes. Or at least apparently yes – not knowing for sure what the future holds.

I think the best researched and most respected book by a heavily credentialed guy is Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone .

From this somewhat biased (but paying attention) site

… after the heyday of civic participation in the earliest decades of the twentieth century, involvement soared and peaked after World War II, probably because of a widely shared sense of victory and cohesiveness. However, after a plateau in the 1950s, participation began to decline in the sixties and seventies and has plummeted ever since. He gives specific figures and informative charts to support his arguments.

Putnam attributes the decrease in involvement to several factors, beginning with political disillusionment in the wake of the assassinations of JFK and others, and disaffection brought about by Vietnam War protests and the Nixon resignation. Other factors include increasing pressures over time and money, as well as urban sprawl and individual mobility. The greatest culprit of all, though, according to Putnam, is television. The incredible popularity of television watching coincides with disengagement from society, as well as lethargic lifestyles, and because it gives the very false illusion of interacting with others, TV deters people from really going out and getting involved in community projects, politics, church activities, volunteerism, and fraternal organizations.

Even if you don’t buy his explanations - he charts and documents an ongoing and continuing decline in Fraternal organizations from the early 60’s on …

I was talking about the Independent Order of Foresters, who were moderately famous for their Life Insurance.

One big problem, in addition to these other real factors, was that the fraternal orders garnered a dark reputation for racism, sexism, anti-semitism, and every other sort of -ism, probably even more so at the local level than the national, although there as well.

While the groups have worked hard to try to eradicate this past, they definitely lost a whole generation of boomers who didn’t want to be associated with this image, along with the less problematic but also off-putting plasticness and lack of hipness of these groups. Since group membership tends to run in families and be passed down generations, the loss of family ties makes it hard for them to ever recover.

I was in a fraternity this past and last year, before I left UVA and came here.

Yes, definitely, dwindling numbers. You mention television. I used to belong to Boy Scouts, and the reason a lot of kids don’t get involved in something physical and outgoing like that is b/c of something like video games and tv and dvds. I’m not saying anything; I myself am 20 years old, and I wish I had watched more movies in high school than I spent on scouts :smiley: , so I’m not saying ‘These kids today are too detached and isolated and at home on their computers,’ but that is a very, very important reason- ask scoutmasters.

As for fraternities, the reason I can give is that the appeal isn’t as strong. College kids have close friend groups and party any weekend or any time they want to, w/o having to pay dues or attend meetings. Animal House was a long time ago, and we live in a different age now of aids, enforced drunken-in-public laws, etc.; and before I get jumped on, the fact is that that’s not what a frat is about, but when I talked to some alumni they talked about UVA in the 70s and about how free things were back then. There was just more of a spirit in general back then; again, I sound older than I am, don’t I? :dubious:

But this isn’t all bad; at least now, there is much less of a caste-system, greek-controlled spirit at colleges. The dictatorship-like 60s are over, and that’s a good thing, b/c who needs selectivity? Except of course that some frats still are, I know, I’m just saying most aren’t…

And I know something about joining the types of organizations most people don’t and staying with them. Ever heard of the Order of the Arrow? Didn’t think so… :wink:

By the way, what is the Elks and the Kiwanis? I thought someone said it was very secular. I know it’s gone, right?

Yes, most of them are dying and getting older . . . but a friend turned me on to a little known benifit. A lot of these places are built on PRIME locations. They may have things like private docks for boats, child care benifits, and low cost drinking!

It may not be “cool” to join, but hey . . . these places are established. I joined the Moose thinking that it was just a joke, but it’s actually a nice place. You don’t have to hang out with the old farts, make it your own is what he showed me. :cool: (and it’s only twenty dollars a year)!

andrewdt85, you do realize, don’t you, that you’re talking about a completely different subject than what’s being discussed in the OP? HeyHomie specifically said that he was not talking about college fraternities. He’s talking about fraternal organizations like “the Masons, the Elks, the Shriners, etc.” Indeed, I suspect that the fact that you had to ask what the Elks and the Kiwanis are shows just how close these organizations are to disappearing. Apparently while for someone like me who’s 53 years old, they are merely old-fashioned organizations that not many people my age belong to, for someone like you who’s 20 years old they are so far from your experience that you don’t even know what we’re talking about.

Hey, I know what the Masonic Lodge is! :mad: I watch the Simpsons; they did a parody of it, remember? And I read about them in a book…

My question is “Why not join now and own it?” Get a group of you friends together and take over that Elk’s/Moose/VFW. It’s cheaper that you think and even if it isn’t you get to use it for a couple of years as “your” hang out! :smiley:

Then why did you spend your post talking about college fraternities when HeyHomie said specifically that they were not what he was talking about?

Cause I wasn’t reading the full posts, just parts of them all as I went down, not understanding completely but eager to post my comment, wondering what the hell these names were and what JFK had to do with college frats, and how the OP could say no modern tv shows mention them :D, and finally posting.

:o :wink:

These lodges were originally joined by spirited young men; then, by the spirited descendents. Now, they need new members to keep going, but it’s not like they have a lot of ways besides legacies to do that; they can’t, I suppose, put a bulletin up at the community center, b/c that’s not very secret society-ish. :stuck_out_tongue:

I know the initiation rituals are complex, at least for the Masons. I also know that what you’ve been saying about them getting bad raps for dark rituals and such. I’m incredibly open-minded, and I mean that in a way that you can believe, not like everyone else would say; I don’t care what ritual they do or don’t, I don’t believe in spirits or witchcraft, and I don’t know what they really do anyways:rolleyes: . I’m interested in joining. How can I find out about a local lodge? How does one go about it? Which one is most laid back in terms of time-commitment and initiation, honestly?

There’s a fraternal orgainzation for younger people that started in the 1920’s in Sacramento called the

Active 20-30 Club of Sacramento

My understanding of the history is that in the 1920’s Rotary was dominated by old money, so the young guys had no real leadership opportunity. They decided to form their own group, limiting membership to men ages 20-30.

After the Viet Nam War, membership dwindled, and the age bracket was expanded from 20-39, and the Club kept the name, saying it was open to men in their 20’s and 30’s. I believe that membership overall has never quite recovered post-Vietnam.

Once you hit age 40, you “graduate” to Rotary. Most of the local Rotarians were once 20-30ans.

A women’s auxiliary formed form the wives of the Active 20-30 Club. Eventually, the women’s auxiliary formed their own full-fledged club. They called it the

Active 20-30 Club of Greater Sacramento

Both Clubs are still around and functioning, and they have chapters nationally (mostly in the West). They basically throw big parties, sell tickets, and donate the proceeds to local children’s charities. They also do “hands on” events where they go to actually help local kids in need, which distingushes them from “money clubs” like Rotary.

The older 20-30 Clubs are segregated by sex as a matter of “tradition”, but newer Clubs are not.

There are opportunities for younger folks in fraternal organizations, and some people are trying to keep younger folk involved in such groups.

Well some are harder than others. You need to look (yes, actually look) and see if they have anything thing that would interest you. Such as a dock, lake front area, camp grounds, activities and/or benifits for families. Then, just make friends with member in your communitity. They may be older, but guess what. They are looking for new memebers and will give you a “recommend” after a few beers! That’s all you need., a current memeber recommendation in most cases. (maybe not the Mason’s, which may require business ownership and a couple of recommendations). Most are happy to have young people apply, and that guy who recommended you may past away in a short time. You may be better off knowing a guy like him for a few short years and you made him feel good knowing you. It works out. Or tell them that your dad was a member long ago and that may suffice. Really, they want to see this club move on into the future and are willing to take some shortcuts. They are not bad people.

Let me add by saying, I don’t think that people should just prey on the old guard. They truely want the younger people coming in and taking charge. It helps them out by keeping the place going. Think about, how hard would it be for you to set up the same kind of place? The organiztion and the PROPERTY is there. A lot of these places are going to fail over the next few years because nobody wanted to do the paperwork to keep it going. Opourfuckingtunity, that’s what I’m talking about.

Just an observation. My wife and I are former members of an old club here (centered around sports) that’s been in continuous existence since the 30’s. They are having the same problem attracting younger members. Although they aren’t a “fraternity” as in the OP, the problem is similar.

Why are we “ex” members? Cigarette smoke.

I wonder if the “old-guard” is simply driving away the younger members with their smoking? As more and more places ban smoking, the clubhouse becomes the only place left for them to light up. It’s our experience that only the older members smoke.

(Please don’t think this is an anti-smoking post. I just wonder if it’s actually part of the problem)