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Your new neighbors may drive a buggy — Ohio’s Amish population is growing

A horse carries an Amish buggy down a rural road.
There are more than 380,000 Amish people living in North America, and the number is rapidly rising. According to experts from the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, the group's population doubles approximately every 20 years.

Ohio’s Amish population is on the rise — up nearly 10,000 people in the past five years alone, according to data collected by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.

It’s part of a national trend.

The population across the U.S. has doubled since 2000; there are now about 378,000 Amish people living in the country.

According to Young Center director Steve Nolt, two main factors account for the rapid rate of growth: large family sizes and high retention rates.

Amish families have between six and seven kids on average, he said.

“So that's certainly much higher than the typical family size in the United States otherwise.”

And nearly 90% of those kids join the Amish church as adults.

“So you end up with a doubling time that’s about every 20 years or so,” Nolt said.

That rapid growth means Amish communities in Ohio, and across the country, are expanding to new places.

“We have now more Amish people living in more places than they ever did before,” Nolt said.

Where is the Amish population expanding to?

Ohio has the second largest Amish population in the U.S., with historic Amish settlements in places like Holmes and Geauga Counties that date back to the 1800s.

In the dozens of decades since they were founded, those communities have continuously grown in terms of population, Nolt said.

“They become rather crowded as far as availability of land and homes,” he said. “So, Amish people form new communities all the time.”

That happens when a group of several households decide to move somewhere new — often to a place with more available land.

“So a new settlement might start with five, six, seven households,” Nolt said. “And over the course of a number of years, more people may join them.”

Not every new settlement takes off, he said, but the vast majority do.

As a result, there are now Amish communities in 32 states, and places like Ohio, which have long had an Amish presence, have more settlements than before.

In fact, Ohio has added about 170 new church districts in the past decade, more than any other state.

And the growth doesn’t show signs of slowing.

Increasing interactions between the Amish and the non-Amish

The growing population has ramifications on Amish people and their non-Amish neighbors alike.

Historically, most Amish people were farmers, Nolt said. But that’s been changing since the 1980s, as the growing population put pressure on land availability and the cost of that land started rising. At the same time, it became harder to earn a living with a small-scale farm.

So Nolt said many Amish people turned to small businesses, doing things like metalworking or manufacturing wood products.

“In many places today, only a minority of Amish families are farming,” he said.

But many still prefer to make their homes in rural communities.

“They're looking for areas where there's some space for their community to expand,” Nolt said. “Every family needs at least a small horse pasture. And they prefer to have large gardens.”

As those communities expand, Amish people increasingly interact with people who aren’t Amish. That’s happened in places like Holmes and Geauga counties for decades, Nolt said, but these days, those interactions are happening across a much wider area.

That can create some tension between the two groups.

“One of the issues that shows up is sharing the road,” Nolt said. “Car drivers, motor vehicles [have to] become aware of Amish buggies, who are obviously moving more slowly, and often to the side of the road.”

But Nolt says the increasing Amish presence has also been an economic lifeline for some rural communities.

“You have areas, counties and communities that have been in rural population decline for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “And so to have an influx of new people has been really beneficial in some places.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.
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