The coronavirus pandemic has affected every sector of our society. The cruellest effects are being levied upon older people and COVID-19 has also taken a disproportionate toll on people of colour. Many countries are working to address the major health-disparity issues responsible for this, which will help alleviate the suffering across many communities. Solutions can’t come soon enough.
The coronavirus pandemic has created challenges for every generation. Among those hit hardest economically and socially is Generation Z. Gen Z, or Zoomers as they are becoming better known, were born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s. Gen Z is a digitally native, digitally nomadic cohort, willingly and easily embracing new forms of communication. They are politically active, globally engaged and are proving, above all, to be resilient – in their ideals, in their ability to adapt to the challenges they face and to affect positive change. Older Zoomers have experience of the last economic recession in 2008 and were already peering into a future burdened by student debt, rising house prices, lower wages and fewer job opportunities. Gen Z are the demographic most likely to have suffered the biggest economic impact of COVID-19(1). Chuck in a pandemic that’s taking away their loved ones and threatening to further reduce their social and economic options for years to come and Gen Z faces an uphill climb into maturity and independence.
The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020(2) comprised a two stage, online self-complete-style interview exploring the views and perspectives of over 27.5K millennials and Gen Zs before and after the start of the pandemic. The survey found 44% of Gen Z respondents reported feeling stressed most or all of the time, with 41% citing concern for the welfare of their families as a major cause of the stress. 43% of Zoomer respondents were concerned for their longer-term financial futures and 46% for their job prospects.
Despite the effects of the pandemic on their personal situations, Gen Z has shown a constant and greater concern for the environment and for the wellbeing of the global community in which they live. These were issues of concern to Gen Z before the pandemic, and have remained so throughout it. 29% of Gen Z reported climate change/protecting the environment as their top concern. The drop in pollution levels resulting from the lockdowns has shown there is hope for the environment, with Gen Z taking optimism and motivation from this and turning both into action. Income inequality/wealth distribution was also a high-ranking concern for 20% of the Gen Z population surveyed. 74% of Gen Z said the pandemic has increased their empathy and made them more sympathetic towards the needs of people around the world. 73% said that, once restrictions are lifted, they will be proactive in taking positive action to improve the lives of people in their communities. Over two-thirds are already doing more than they did before to help others and the environment.
As the mother of two Zoomers, these findings chime with my own observations and I take comfort from them. Despite the challenges of lockdown and concerns about its impact on young people’s mental health, Gen Zs are proving to be a resilient bunch; they are not about giving up or giving in, and they are holding on to what they believe. Gen Zs make purpose-driven decisions and are not afraid to seek professional support if needed. As a group they feel mostly optimistic about their future, although nearly one in five feels they have negative prospects. A key reason for the optimism is that they have a vision of a future that could be; a future where they can get on with their lives, go out with their friends, and, as my son put it, “just do stuff again” (hopefully this includes learning to pick up his socks, but I doubt it). Gen Z is already turning the page. Their lives are becoming their own and they intend to use those lives to create a better post-pandemic world. While we can’t yet know how the pandemic will change society we are aware the coronavirus created a pause during which Gen Z saw an opportunity to hit the reset button and now, because of and thanks to them, the future ain’t what it used to be*.
- K Henehan, Class of 2020: Education leavers in the current crisis, Resolution Foundation, May 2020
- A world reimagined: The Deloitte 2020 Global Millennial Survey
* Possibly Yogi Berra, current evidence indicates phrase first used by Paul Valéry, Laura Riding and Robert Graves in 1937.