Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers in the United States as the largest living generation, but the demographic realities in Ohio present a stark contrast to the national trend.
Millennials — defined as those ages 18-34 in 2015 — now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69) for the top spot, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Research Center.
By comparison, Ohio’s millennial population numbers about 2.6 million, which means they are still trailing the state’s Baby Boomer generation by more than 430,000, Census data shows.
And while the ranks of millennials are expected to swell nationally to roughly 81 million by 2036, driven largely by migration, Ohio’s population growth is expected to remain stagnant.
“The problem in Ohio is that the total population isn’t expected to change much in the next 15 years,” according to Shahla Mehdizadeh, a researcher at Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center, who said other states are gaining population at Ohio’s expense.
“What has happened, especially with millennials, is that after the recession when there weren’t many job opportunities in Ohio, younger people went off to college and didn’t come back. Or they came back, couldn’t find jobs and picked up and left,” Mehdizadeh said. “That section of the labor force in our state is not growing.”
Michaela Eames, a 2015 University of Dayton graduate and social media strategist for the school, said she is one of the few of her circle of friends on campus to stick around Dayton after graduation.
“A lot of my friends moved back to the suburbs of Chicago,” Eames said. “A lot of people do that because a lot of people who go to school here are from the suburbs of Chicago. I’m still here because I work in a very specific field that I wanted to stay on track with. And I’m personally really interested in outdoor recreation, and there’s a lot more of that around the Dayton region.”
Eames is an exception. The bulk of Ohio’s population is getting older, retiring or leaving the state.
According to the Ohio Department of Aging, Ohio’s 60-plus population is growing more than 20 times faster than the state’s overall population.
As Ohio Boomers grow older and their numbers begin to decline, the state will rely more heavily on consumer spending by millennials to drive economic growth.
But even if millennials were a larger share of Ohio’s population, it would still be a challenge to get the same economic output from a younger generation that’s more interested in saving their money than spending it, according to a recent Gallup poll that found 66 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds preferred saving to spending — the highest percentage of any age group.
Alex Klug, horticulturist manager at The Foodbank in Dayton, said her generation’s propensity to save isn’t necessarily a rejection of consumerism, which drives three quarters of economic growth in the U.S.
Instead, the 28-year-old Yellow Springs native, said millennials have been held back from spending by an economy still recovering from recession and the highest levels of student debt sustained by any other generation at the same stage of life.
“As somebody from this generation, I believe it’s very difficult for us financially,” Klug said. “Me and a lot of my friends have not been able to finish college because of financial reasons, and that means we haven’t been able to pursue our career goals in the same way other generations were able to do.”
Still, even if money wasn’t an issue, Klug readily admits that most millennials look at the consumer economy in a whole different light than their parents.
“It’s just a shift in mindset as far as the way we reuse materials, and our living situations,” she said. “Personally, a goal of mine is never to buy a house. Or a least not for a very long time.”
In addition to their spending habits, millennials also often have different views of work and the workplace than older generations and do not have the traditional “company man” loyalties, which will make it difficult for businesses to retain the talented young professionals that their companies will increasingly rely upon.
According to a recent survey from Deloitte, 44 percent of millennials said, if given the choice, they would like to leave their current employers in the next two years.
A large number are eager to start their own businesses. But many just want to work for companies and organizations that share their personal values and are willing to accommodate their desire for work/life balance.
“I don’t think everybody wants to become an entrepreneur, but I do think that people like to do things with more freedom and flexibility nowadays,” said Jessica Manns, a 30-year-old Kettering resident who works from home.
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