Statistics Snapshot: Generation Z and Education
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 7–17 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 7–22, 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 18–24 reporting employment between April 23 and May 12, 2020, to fully 69% between June 29 and Aug. 8, 2022.
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 14–24, which captures the majority of Gen Zers, as well as a dataset on the effects of COVID-19. Also, see these resources:
- KIDS COUNT Adds New Dataset on Youth and Young Adults
- Generation Z and Mental Health
- Core Characteristics of Generation Z
- Social Issues Important to Generation Z
- What the Statistics Say About Generation Z
- What Is Generation Alpha?
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