The COVID pandemic is the generation-defining event for Gen Z. The effects of the pandemic will shape the rest of Gen Z’s lives.
Recently, CGK President Jason Dorsey spoke with AXIOS to share The Center for Generational Kinetics’ latest research on the challenges many in Gen Z are experiencing as they move further through the pandemic (and, hopefully, enter the post-pandemic period!).
Generation-defining moments are the events, experiences, and memories that shape how generations view the world around them and influence the decisions they go on to make—such as views about money, education, career, relationships, family, and health. While we cannot know for sure what these changes will look like for Gen Z long term, as they are still young overall, through our unique research, we have been able to study Gen Z’s experiences, learnings, and responses during the pandemic—including how it is impacting their plans for the future.
At the oldest end of the Gen Z spectrum are those now in their early to mid-20s. Many of those in this elder Gen Z group are at the age where they will be working, studying, exploring, or a combination of all three. Through our research, we have observed that it was many of these young working adults who lost their jobs during the pandemic. In fact, Gen Z was the generation most laid off due to a combination of the “last hired, first fired” mantra in many organizations, as well as the disproportionate number of Gen Zers working in the service industry—which experienced massive layoffs.
As a result of lost jobs and career plans, many in Gen Z are looking at money, work, saving, retirement, and investing differently. Many young adults in Gen Z are now focusing more time and attention on saving and managing their spending carefully—a potentially big shift given their age.
Another trend we are seeing is that many young adults in Gen Z are feeling burnt out or disenchanted at work. This generation has experienced so many challenges and pressures at such a young age—including the tremendous social and emotional toll of the pandemic—that it is not unexpected for them to feel a greater likelihood of burnout and fatigue at work, especially coupled with the pressure to perform in companies that are often under-staffed. Interestingly, in many cases, Gen Z is also the beneficiary of the same tight labor market leading to potentially higher wages for them, more flexible schedules, and better benefits—including new benefits such as pet insurance.
On the other side of the age spectrum in Gen Z, the younger members of Gen Z are feeling the effects of the pandemic, and it is shaping how they view adulthood and their future. In a very sad statistic, more than 175,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent or a grandparent due to COVID-19, increasing their sense of mortality at a very young age.
“Many children have been simultaneously exposed to news of COVID case counts and death counts either by overhearing news coverage or adult conversations about COVID in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Vietnam War.” –Jason Dorsey
Young children are now regularly hearing and seeing the impact of the generation in vivid and unforgettable ways, which is very difficult for the young generation to carry with them at any age, but especially at a very young and formative life stage.
In addition, the dramatic increase in technology usage and dependence by Gen Z for education, socialization, entertainment, and recreation during the pandemic heightened kids’ already heavy reliance on technology, digital media, and social media.
“Even though the parents didn’t necessarily want them to use their mobile devices all that much, the reality is they were on it because they weren’t in school and weren’t doing other activities.” –Jason Dorsey
Young children growing up during the pandemic have experienced new social norms unlike any generation before—from constant hand-washing, mask-wearing, and virtual learning, to social distancing. It will be important to study how these new social norms, habits, and expectations shape the future of this important, vibrant, rapidly emerging generation.
While it is clear the pandemic has impacted every generation, closely watching its impact on Gen Z will be very important for the future of work, education, brands, communities, families, and our world. At The Center for Generational Kinetics, we’ll continue studying Gen Z’s emergence closely through both our State of Gen Z® studies and custom research into Gen Z.
Thank you for being on this journey of discovery with us and Gen Z!