This article was originally published on Futures Proof blog by Futures Platform. The article is based on an analysis by Futures Platform, with insight from Jonah Stillman, the acclaimed Gen Z speaker and author, and Futures Platform’s Content Director Dr Tuomo Kuosa. Read the article here: https://www.futuresplatform.com/blog/pandemics-impact-generation-z
Although the COVID-19 pandemic will have some kind of an effect on every generation alive today, inarguably it will have the most profound impact on Generation Z – those born between late 1990s and early 2010s.
According to Futures Platform’s Content Director Dr Tuomo Kuosa, when history books will be written some decades from now, it is quite likely that the pandemic will be mentioned next to climate change among events or phenomena that defined the characteristics and impact of this generation that is now growing up.
“Especially for those members of Gen Z who are now in their teens, an event like this at such a sensitive age will shape their identity and worldview for the rest of their lives.”
Luckily, Gen Z is probably better equipped to deal with the turmoil than for example their preceding generation, the Millennials. Gen Z is usually best known for being the first “digital native” generation, even more tech-savvy than the Millennials, but the two generations have much greater differences as well.
The Millennials’ childhood was generally speaking wealthy – although it serves to remember that the conversation around generations is mainly focused on Western experiences. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the world was less global and digital and there was less awareness of global issues. Gen Z, on the other hand, does not remember any other world than the complex, rapidly changing and increasingly unstable reality we currently live in.
“Generation Z are reaching adulthood during a period of time when great economic crises are undermining global stability and increasing unpredictability,” Tuomo Kuosa says.
The parenting the two generations received was very different as well. Most Millennials were brought up by Baby Boomers whose post-war experience in life was that everything is constantly improving, everyone is getting wealthier, new technology and products constantly arrive to make life easier, and the future looks very bright. Baby Boomers instilled this belief of ever-improving world and unlimited personal possibilities into their offspring, who grew up to be optimistic and demanding of both the world and themselves.
Gen Z, on the other hand, was brought up byGeneration X. Often called the latchkey generation, Gen X lived with distracted, career-oriented parents and felt different or even isolated from the ideals of the preceding generations.
“Generation X tends to be suspicious and very realistic. They passed this on: Gen X parents told their Gen Z children that there are winners and losers in this world and you need to work hard to be among the winners,” says Jonah Stillman, Co-founder of GenGuru. He is a renowned author and speaker specialising in differences between generations – and a member of Gen Z himself.
This inherited realism certainly works to help Generation Z to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. But what is the pandemic’s impact on the young generation, specifically speaking – how does it impact children, teenagers and young adults of today?
According to Jonah Stillman, there is no one single answer to this question because the generation is still growing up.
“The impact is certainly massive for all – but it is very different depending on which end of the Gen Z age spectrum you are looking at.”.
For the young adults of Generation Z, the impact is most acutely felt in regards to work. For those still in school, the impact is above all social.
Gen Z in the workplace after COVID-19
Nobody knows the final depth of the economic downturn that follows in the pandemic’s wake. As of now, all that is known is that it is approaching 1930s levels with the unemployment skyrocketing across the world and people and organisations alike tightening the rope on spending to brace themselves for months or years to come.
According to Pew Research Center, Generation Z is worst affected by this as they are more likely to be laid off and their lack of work experience makes it harder for them to land a job.
“The job market is highly volatile right now. Young adults have invested time and money into their degrees, and now they are graduating into a job market that is non-existent,” Jonah Stillman describes.
If the pandemic and the subsequent economic instability drag on for long, that may fast-forward the development of the gig economy. Prolonged unemployment forces more and more people to look for freelance work online, and many of them will later find themselves as permanent freelancers.
According to the Workforce Institute, Gen Z is divided on how they feel about the gig economy. They appreciate the flexibility it offers but they don’t like the lack of security.
“We know that statistically what Gen Z values in a job is most of all security and high salary. They want to be able to take care of themselves and their family,” Jonah Stillman says.
This is a contrast to the Millennials who tend to value progress and purpose above everything else at work.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fundamental issue about the gig economy: inferior social security of freelancers, including healthcare,” Tuomo Kuosa says.
He believes is possible that this will drive forward solutions such as Universal Basic Income. That could solve the security issue for Gen Z, at least partially.
How COVID-19 is changing world views and social life
While the young adult Gen Zs are worrying about jobs, the younger end of the generation is still in school and living with their parents. According to Jonah Stillman, the struggle they face during the COVID-19 pandemic is of a completely different nature.
“You don’t get to have social interaction with friends. You can’t go to your hobbies, and your summer camp is cancelled. The pandemic doesn’t impact their success as much as their actual happiness.”
And, of course, this impact is not evenly felt across the generation. Those from lower socio-economic groups will suffer much more. Even though their technical skills are absolutely good enough to navigate in a remote learning situation, they may not have access to the internet or devices. In addition, depending on age, they may need support and guidance that their parents may not be able or willing to provide.
“The big question is – what responsibilities do different organisations have in all this? What responsibilities do the schools have, what about the government? How do we make sure that everyone has a realistic chance to continue school?” Jonah Stillman asks.
Now the summer holidays are beginning but come next term, it is likely that these questions need to be addressed again in many parts of the world.
Future of young adults after COVID-19
In the future, there will be a time when the Millennials will be the last remaining generation to remember what life was like before the digital era.
Much in the same way, some decades later, Generation Z will become the last remaining generation to have memories of the time before COVID-19. That will take place sometime after mid-century, meaning that the predicted consequences of climate change will also have become very visible and very real.
Tuomo Kuosa thinks that the pandemic may end up becoming the point in time that started preparing Gen Z for the challenges of the future.
“Perhaps Gen Z will be known as the ‘resilient’ generation who learned at a sensitive age that it is possible to overcome crises without the entire world collapsing. With this lesson learned, the generation could grow up to become leaders who can really drive change when it is needed most,” Tuomo Kuosa concludes.
If you want to take a closer look at how the world is changing during and after COVID-19, check out Futures Platform’s free “World After COVID-19” radar.