Social Issues That Matter to Generation Z

Posted February 14, 2021, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Generation Z cares about a number of social issues

With tech­nol­o­gy at their fin­ger­tips — and a reg­u­lar tool in their grow­ing hands — Gen Zers have been able to con­nect to far­away cul­tures, issues and news ear­li­er and more often than any gen­er­a­tion before them. As a result, Gen­er­a­tion Z mem­bers tend to be more open-mind­ed, lib­er­al-lean­ing and active­ly engaged in advo­cat­ing for the fair and equal treat­ment of others.

Sev­en Top Social Issues for Gen Z

Sev­en issues have com­mand­ed the atten­tion of Gen­er­a­tion Z so far. These are: 1) health care; 2) men­tal health; 3) high­er edu­ca­tion; 4) eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty; 5) civic engage­ment; 6) race equi­ty; and 7) the environment.

1. Health Care

Health care is a core issue for Gen­er­a­tion Z. The old­est mem­bers of this group are aging out of their par­ents’ health insur­ance plans and invest­ing in their own health insur­ance for the first time. Many can only afford cov­er­age through the Afford­able Cares Act and Med­ic­aid expansion.

When it comes to health care, youth today care about con­ve­nience, effi­cien­cy and trans­paren­cy. Thanks to tech­nol­o­gy, they are grow­ing up with­in a med­ical sys­tem offer­ing unprece­dent­ed options for con­nect­ing with physi­cians, health coach­es, ther­a­pists and self-mon­i­tor­ing solu­tions aimed at sup­port­ing their well-being.

At the same time, Gen Zers are less like­ly to have pri­ma­ry care providers rel­a­tive to old­er Amer­i­cans. They pre­fer telemed­i­cine to tra­di­tion­al in-per­son vis­its and, due to their desire for con­ve­nience, are more will­ing to share per­son­al infor­ma­tion via vir­tu­al appoint­ments, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny Fierce Health­care, which reports on health care news.

2. Men­tal Health

Men­tal health is an impor­tant issue for Gen Zers. This age group is the least like­ly gen­er­a­tion to report fair or excel­lent men­tal health, accord­ing to a study from the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion. Also sig­nif­i­cant: 35% of Gen Zers sur­veyed report­ed that their men­tal health has wors­ened dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, per the research firm Zebra IQ.

While tech­nol­o­gy is an essen­tial social­iza­tion tool for young peo­ple, it can also aug­ment feel­ings of lone­li­ness and stress. Trag­ic world news is now deliv­ered faster than ever — and dif­fi­cult to avoid — via an assort­ment of apps and outlets.

For­tu­nate­ly, today’s young adults are seek­ing treat­ment for their anx­i­ety and depres­sion through coun­sel­ing and ther­a­py. In the Unit­ed States, 37% of Gen Zers — a high­er share than in any pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tion — have report­ed receiv­ing help from a psy­chol­o­gist or oth­er men­tal health expert.

3. High­er Education

High­er Edu­ca­tion is one of the top issues Gen­er­a­tion Z cares about. When com­pared to old­er peer groups, mem­bers of Gen­er­a­tion Z are the least like­ly to drop out of high school and the most like­ly to go to col­lege, accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter.

As learn­ers, Gen Zers are inter­est­ed in acquir­ing career skills. They are cre­ative, hands-on and tech-savvy stu­dents who pre­fer immer­sive, active edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ences ver­sus pas­sive­ly sit­ting and lis­ten­ing to pro­fes­sors lec­ture for hours.

The pan­dem­ic forced many stu­dents to embrace remote learn­ing. It also knocked a sig­nif­i­cant share of low­er-income stu­dents off their aca­d­e­m­ic path. For instance: In Octo­ber 2020, more than 40% of house­holds report­ed that a prospec­tive stu­dent was can­celling plans to attend com­mu­ni­ty col­lege, accord­ing to data from the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau. And, among cur­rent col­lege stu­dents, 41% cred­it­ed the pan­dem­ic with derail­ing their plans to grad­u­ate on time.

4. Eco­nom­ic Security

Eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty mat­ters to Gen Z. They want to have sta­ble, well-pay­ing jobs and to avoid crip­pling debt. The high costs of a col­lege degree and the long-term finan­cial toll asso­ci­at­ed with tak­ing out edu­ca­tion­al loans are of par­tic­u­lar con­cern. From 2008 to 2014, tuition and fees at both 4‑year and 2‑year insti­tu­tions across the Unit­ed States rose 28%, accord­ing to Young Invin­ci­bles, a non­prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to expand­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for young adults ages 18 to 34.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, these stu­dents select their col­lege majors accord­ing­ly. In a sur­vey of 2017 grad­u­ates — the first class of Gen Z col­lege grad­u­ates — 88% said that job avail­abil­i­ty informed their choice of major, accord­ing to the World Eco­nom­ic Forum.

When it comes to earn­ing mon­ey, Gen Zers are inter­est­ed in forg­ing their own path. They have an entre­pre­neur­ial mind­set and are open to chal­leng­ing the tra­di­tion­al rat race. An over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of these youth — 75% — also believe that col­lege isn’t the only path to a good edu­ca­tion and 50% have an alter­nate source of income of some kind.

In 2020, Gen Zers — the rook­ies of today’s work­force — saw their nascent finan­cial foun­da­tions begin to crack. Rough­ly a third said COVID-19 had an extreme or very neg­a­tive impact on their finan­cial secu­ri­ty. More than 2 mil­lion moved back in with their par­ents or guardians in 2020, and over 40% of Gen Zers cit­ed the glob­al health cri­sis as their rea­son for falling behind on cred­it cards, rent or oth­er pay­ments, accord­ing to the Cen­ter for Gen­er­a­tional Kinet­ics’ State of Gen Z report.

One sil­ver lin­ing to the tur­bu­lent year: It inspired young peo­ple to be more pru­dent with their finances. In fact, over half of Gen Zers — 54% — have report­ed sav­ing more mon­ey since the pan­dem­ic began, accord­ing to the State of Gen Z report.

5. Civic Engagement

Mem­bers of Gen­er­a­tion Z are pas­sion­ate about advo­cat­ing for social change.

About 70% of Gen Zers believe that the gov­ern­ment should be more active in address­ing prob­lems, reports the Pew Research Cen­ter. Accord­ing­ly, an esti­mat­ed 52 to 55% of eli­gi­ble young vot­ers cast their bal­lot in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion — a par­tic­i­pa­tion rate that helped to shape the final results.

Gen Zers are also com­fort­able dri­ving change. Using plat­forms like Snapchat, Insta­gram, Twit­ter and Tik­Tok, these youth have helped move activism into the dig­i­tal age. And, along the way, they’ve offered the world a mas­ter class in har­ness­ing the pow­er of social media to spot­light a spe­cif­ic cause or an issue that they want to see change.

Some exam­ples to date: Mem­bers of Gen­er­a­tion Z orga­nized march­es nation­wide after a gun­man killed 17 peo­ple at Mar­jo­ry Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Flori­da. Swedish teen and envi­ron­men­tal activist Gre­ta Thun­berg lever­aged social media to cap­ti­vate the world and chal­lenge lead­ers to take action against cli­mate change. And 23-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who blogged about her right to edu­ca­tion, kicked off a fem­i­nist move­ment in the Mid­dle East en route to win­ning a Nobel Peace Prize.

In Amer­i­ca, most young peo­ple — 62% — think their voic­es are more pow­er­ful online than offline, accord­ing to the youth mar­ket research firm YPulse, and near­ly all mem­bers of Gen Z — 97% — report using at least one major social media plat­form.

6. Racial Equity

Racial equi­ty is a key social issue for Gen­er­a­tion Z.

Gen Zers are more racial­ly and eth­ni­cal­ly diverse than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, with near­ly half of the group’s mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing com­mu­ni­ties of col­or. Fit­ting­ly, this group val­ues inclu­sion and its mem­bers are more like­ly than their old­er coun­ter­parts to have favor­able views of inter­ra­cial mar­riage as well as racial and eth­nic diversity.

Today’s young peo­ple are also acute­ly aware of the nation’s steep racial divides.

One poll — con­duct­ed by the social net­work­ing app Yubo and involv­ing near­ly 39,000 Gen Zers based in the Unit­ed States — found that 88% of respon­dents believe Black Amer­i­cans are treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly than oth­ers. In addi­tion, near­ly 90% of respon­dents said they sup­port­ed Black Lives Mat­ter, an orga­ni­za­tion fight­ing against both sys­temic racism and police bru­tal­i­ty involv­ing Black Americans.

7. Envi­ron­ment

The threat of cli­mate change is anoth­er cat­a­stro­phe impact­ing the lives of Gen Z, reports Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

Pre-pan­dem­ic, Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al asked 10,000 18- to 25-year-olds in 22 coun­tries to iden­ti­fy the world’s most press­ing issues. Glob­al warm­ing gar­nered the top vote among 41% of respon­dents and the most votes over­all. In Amer­i­ca alone, an over­whelm­ing major­i­ty — 87% — of Gen Zers report being wor­ried for the envi­ron­ment and the plan­et, accord­ing to a study by the com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Porter Novelli/​Cone.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, 93% of Gen Zers sur­veyed say that brands have an oblig­a­tion to take a stand on envi­ron­men­tal issues, as report­ed by the stu­dent-only shop­ping app UNi­DAYS.

Beyond expect­ing com­pa­nies to fall in line, young peo­ple are also com­mit­ted to lead­ing by exam­ple, sug­gests a con­sumer spend­ing sur­vey by First Insight, Inc. The pre­dic­tive ana­lyt­ics plat­form found that 73% of respond­ing Gen Zers were ok pay­ing more for sus­tain­able prod­ucts — no oth­er gen­er­a­tion group report­ed such a high will­ing­ness to do so. In addi­tion, 62% of respond­ing Gen Zers said that they pre­ferred buy­ing from sus­tain­able brands — on par with mil­len­ni­als and 23 per­cent­age points high­er than baby boomers.

Learn More About Gen­er­a­tion Z

Under­stand­ing Gen­er­a­tion Z is crit­i­cal for shap­ing the future of the nation in a pos­i­tive way. Explore addi­tion­al Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion resources to learn more about America’s younger gen­er­a­tions, includ­ing Gen­er­a­tion Z and Gen­er­a­tion Alpha:

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