December 9, 2020
Sociologists and other researchers are beginning to gain an understanding of how individuals born after 1996 differ from the generations that came before them. The influences, demographic characteristics, and viewpoints of the group known as Generation Z are beginning to set this group apart from all those over the age of 23, according to a series of new reports from the Pew Research Center.
For members of Generation Z, the role of technology is central to their lives; they’ve never known the world without it. Think about it: Boomers grew up as television was expanding, Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was unfolding, and Millennials grew up during the expansion of the internet.
“This is the first generation to come of age with technological advances such as the smartphone not as something new to be adopted, but simply as an accepted part of everyday life,” says Kim Parker, who directs the Center’s social trends research and co-authored one of the reports.
Generation Z overwhelmingly comes from urban and suburban environments. Only 13% of its members live in rural America, compared with 18% of Millennials in 2002, 23% of Gen Xers, and 36% of Baby Boomers at similar ages.
They’re also on track to become the most educated generation. They have higher high school graduation rates and lower dropout rates than those who came before them, and they are more likely to be in college. In 2018, 57% of 18- to 21-year-olds were in college, compared with 52% of Millennials and 43% of Gen Xers at similar ages.
Gen Zers are also the most diverse generation. Research by the Center determined that nearly half (48%) of 6- to 21-year-old Gen Zers are racial or ethnic minorities, compared with 39% of Millennials in that age bracket in 2002 and more than double the percentage of early Baby Boomers in 1968.
It also found that the new generation is being shaped by changing immigration patterns. The Great Recession and decline in employment led to fewer immigrants coming to the United States, with immigration peaking in 2005, when the oldest members of Gen Z were 8. As a result, Generation Z has fewer foreign-born members than the Millennial generation did in 2002 — and a significantly higher number who were born in the U.S. to immigrant parents.
One in 4 Gen Zers are Hispanic, significantly higher than the Hispanic share of Millennials in 2002. The percentage of Asians is up slightly, from 4% to 6%, while the share who are Black is 14%, about the same as Millennials at a comparable age. (Side note: Black representation among the nation’s youth has changed little since the early Baby Boomers in 1968.)
In many instances, the youngest generation’s views follow Millennials’ social attitudes, and are in stark contrast to the oldest group, the Silent Generation, with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers falling in the middle.
For example, 70% of Gen Zers say government should do more to solve societal problems, rather than leaving it to businesses and individuals. By comparison, 64% of Millennials and only 39% of Silents say government should do more. Similarly, roughly 6 in 10 Gen Zers and Millennials say increasing racial and ethnic diversity is good for society, compared with about 4 in 10 Silents.
Thirty-five percent of Gen Zers say they personally know someone who prefers that others refer to them with gender-neutral pronouns, significantly higher than the 25% of Millennials, and nearly triple the percentage of Baby Boomers who say they know such a person. Gen Zers also are the most likely to say that forms or online profiles that ask about a person’s gender should include options other than “man” or “woman.” About 6 in 10 Gen Zers hold that view, compared with half of Millennials and 4 in 10 or fewer Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and members of the Silent Generation.
This difference carries over to same-sex marriage, which was legalized nationwide by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, and interracial marriage, which the court decriminalized in all 50 states in 1967. Similar to the Millennials who precede them, 48% of Gen Zers say that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry is a good thing for society, compared with 27% of Baby Boomers and 18% of Silents. And 53% of Gen Zers say interracial marriage is good for society, compared with 30% of Baby Boomers and 20% of Silents.
Research on some of the youngest Gen Zers also offers troubling insight. The Center’s survey of 13- to 17-year-olds found that 7 in 10 say anxiety and depression are major problems among their peers. Academics tops the list of pressures facing young people: Sixty-one percent of teens say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades, much higher than pressure to look good (29%) or fit in socially (28%). And about half of teens see drugs and alcohol as major problems for people their age, although only 4% say they personally feel a lot of pressure to use drugs and 6% say they feel pressured to drink.
Overall, the views of Gen Zers more closely align with Millennials than they do with previous generations, Parker concludes. The two groups together will constitute a sizable block of the American population and exert a significant impact on the country.
“Surveys of today’s Gen Zers are not a crystal ball, with firm predictions of future views,” she says. “But they offer a window in which to look at where the nation is headed.”
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