Statistics Snapshot: Generation Z and Education

Posted October 29, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Generation Z and college

This post explores sta­tis­tics at the inter­sec­tion of edu­ca­tion and Gen­er­a­tion Z and what the data tells us about this gen­er­a­tion of youth and young adults.

The term Gen­er­a­tion Z refers to any indi­vid­ual born between 1997 and 2012. Today, the old­est mem­bers of this age group are in their mid-20s, and the vast major­i­ty of Gen­er­a­tion Z mem­bers are advanc­ing through America’s edu­ca­tion system.

These youth and young adults are racial­ly and eth­ni­cal­ly diverse, pro­gres­sive and pro-gov­ern­ment,” accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter. They’re also sand­wiched between Mil­len­ni­als and a younger age group — still adding mem­bers today — called Gen­er­a­tion Alpha.

This post explores sta­tis­tics that sit at the inter­sec­tion of edu­ca­tion and Gen­er­a­tion Z and reviews what the data tell us today.

Gen­er­a­tion Z Edu­ca­tion Statistics

Gen­er­a­tion Z and College

Gen­er­a­tion Zers are climb­ing a longer aca­d­e­m­ic lad­der. They are more like­ly to fin­ish high school and pur­sue col­lege com­pared to ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions, accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter. Among young adults ages 18 to 21 who were no longer in high school in 2018, 57% were enrolled in a two- or four-year col­lege.” This same sta­tis­tic was five per­cent­age points low­er — at 52% — for Mil­len­ni­als in 2003 and 14 per­cent­age points low­er — at 43% — for mem­bers of Gen­er­a­tion X in 1987.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter reports a sim­i­lar pro-edu­ca­tion trend. As Gen Zers made their way through the school sys­tem from 2000 to 2019, the share of 16- to 19-year-olds who were not high school stu­dents or high school grad­u­ates dropped from 11% to just 4%. At the same time, the share of 18- to 24-year-olds who were col­lege stu­dents or col­lege grad­u­ates jumped from 36% to 49% over these two decades.

Parental Edu­ca­tion Lev­els of Gen­er­a­tion Z

The tra­jec­to­ry toward more edu­ca­tion holds true at the fam­i­ly lev­el, too. Par­ents of Gen Zers are also bet­ter edu­cat­ed. Among mem­bers of Gen Z ages 717 in 2019, 44% lived with a par­ent who had a col­lege degree (bachelor’s or grad­u­ate) ver­sus 33% of mil­len­ni­als at the same age.

In addi­tion, a declin­ing share of Gen Zers was born to moth­ers with less than a high school diplo­ma. Among the youngest mem­bers of this group born between 2006 and 2012, births to women who had not grad­u­at­ed from high school dropped from 26% to 17%. This is sig­nif­i­cant because low edu­ca­tion­al attain­ment among moth­ers is linked to poor child health and aca­d­e­m­ic outcomes.

The Edu­ca­tion of Gen Zers in Immi­grant Families

Mem­bers of Gen­er­a­tion Z who come from immi­grant fam­i­lies are less like­ly to expe­ri­ence lan­guage bar­ri­ers. Between 2000 and 2002, 22% of school-age kids in immi­grant fam­i­lies report­ed not speak­ing Eng­lish very well.” By 2019, when Gen Zers reached ages 722, just 13% of kids in immi­grant fam­i­lies fit this same statistic.

Improv­ing a student’s Eng­lish lan­guage pro­fi­cien­cy cor­re­lates to improved aca­d­e­m­ic out­comes, accord­ing to research. Nation­wide, an over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of chil­dren who are in Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­er pro­grams — three of every four kids who receive this sup­port — speak Span­ish as their home lan­guage, accord­ing to the Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Statistics.

Gen Z and Technology

Gen­er­a­tion Z babies were born into mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy and they are the first gen­er­a­tion to grow up immersed in it. Dubbed the glob­al gen­er­a­tion” these stu­dents have been able to access —instant­ly — peers, trends and news from all over the world. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds report­ed hav­ing access to a smart­phone, accord­ing to a 2018 Pew Research Cen­ter sur­vey.

This tech-infused lifestyle was super­charged in ear­ly 2020, when the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic brought class­room lessons to a screech­ing halt and all learn­ing moved online. In the months that fol­lowed, Gen­er­a­tion Z stu­dents had unprece­dent­ed expo­sure and expe­ri­ence using tech­nol­o­gy to con­tin­ue their edu­ca­tion out­side the tra­di­tion­al brick-and-mor­tar school set­ting. How­ev­er, many fam­i­lies and youth have strug­gled dur­ing this phase, and the move to remote learn­ing exposed inequities in house­hold access to basic technology.

Gen­er­a­tion Z in the Workforce

Gen­er­a­tion Z teens (15- to 17-year-olds) are less like­ly to be employed rel­a­tive to their same-age coun­ter­parts in ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions, accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter. One pos­si­ble rea­son? Their pri­or­i­ty is school. Nation­wide, 41% of Gen­er­a­tion X teens were work­ing in 1986 and 27% of Mil­len­ni­al teens were work­ing in 2002. This rate con­tin­ued to fall — land­ing at just 18% of Gen­er­a­tion Z teens work­ing in 2018.

At the same time, employ­ment has increased sub­stan­tial­ly in recent years for the old­est mem­bers of Gen Z, from 47% of young adults ages 1824 report­ing employ­ment between April 23 and May 12, 2020, to ful­ly 69% between June 29 and Aug. 82022.

Learn More About Gen Z

Check out the KIDS COUNT Data Cen­ter for the lat­est edu­ca­tion sta­tis­tics relat­ed to Gen Z, includ­ing a new dataset on youth and young adults ages 1424, which cap­tures the major­i­ty of Gen Zers, as well as a dataset on the effects of COVID-19. Also, see these resources:

Sign up for our newslet­ters to get the lat­est data and oth­er resources.

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