A recent opinion poll from Northwestern University outlines the Generation Z – or 16-19 year olds’ attitudes on various issues. One of the most common mistake I see in generational analysis is when single polls or surveys are used to extrapolate generational character traits. Data that are not collected and compared over time say little about generational differences because there is no material to compare it to. Yet readers are often quick to opine. Generationism is nothing new, and complaining about the younger generations has been done since antiquity. But the only way we can know if the difference really is generational and not just a side effect of having teenagers answer surveys, is by comparing to other data.
Of the NU’s respondents respectively 55 % say they are concerned about climate change. Exact comparable population numbers are difficult to find, but in a study published in March last year only 35% of the general population indicated that they felt climate change was an important issue. In a New York Times/CBS News poll from September, however, 42 % saw climate change as an imminent threat. So there might have been a recent jump in the level of urgency in the total population. Does that mean Generation Z is more concerned about climate change than their elders? It seems like it. And they have more stake in the future as well, so no surprises here.
64% of the respondents are worried about getting a job, 60% worry about their family or themselves having enough money and 67% worry about being able to afford college. There are few surprises in these dismal outlooks on the future, and we have written extensively about it here at After the Millennials. Social scientists and statisticians have documented that over the past decade Americans are growing increasingly doubtful that the American Dream will continue to be within reach of the younger generations. Moreover, 61% of the youngest generation is finding the growing income inequality to be directly harmful to their generation. Interestingly, in terms of worry for income inequality in general, 67% of respondents from all age groups said the same in a Gallup poll. There is actually very little difference between the generation when it comes to views on corporate power in America. 64% of Gen Z vs. 60% of the total population believes corporations and banks have too much power in American society. After the recession we have seen a growing resentment towards larger institutions and corporations.
The NU respondents list affordability as the most important factor for college choice. Interestingly, this differs from UCLA’s freshman survey, which finds reputation to be of most importance. Recently President Obama suggested making the first two-years of college free. More specifically it would be free for community colleges only, so it’s not like sky-high tuitions to select Ivy Leagues would be subsidized.
In any case, it seems that some of the worry over cost is subsiding. Compared to 2012, prospective college students polled in 2014 express fewer financial worries on questions on obstacles that weighs in on the decision of whether or not to go to college.
Younger generations are more than 10 times more likely to say that parents or teachers are their role models than celebrities and athletes. This fact flies in the face of the common misperception that young people only look up to fame-hoarders like Kim Kardashian. I don’t have any comparable rolemodel analysis from Generation X or Boomers’ youth cohorts, but I am old enough to confess with a level of certainty that few of my friends would have put their own moms above Madonna. And parental closeness is indeed a long trend we have observed or a while. Gen Z is much closer to their Gen X parents than Gen X children were to their Silent/Boomer parents. Maybe we are also seeing a shift in popular culture. Another interesting trend is that YouTube celebrities are more popular than the traditional Hollywood A-list to Gen Z. Sorry Jennifer Lawrence, your audience still loves you, but you should turn on your camcorder more often. And not for dirty pictures!
64% of the respondents indicate that they support a single-payer healthcare system similar to those in European countries and Canada. This is almost twice as many in support than we find for other generations. Kaiser Health poll from last year showed that despite accusations of the young feeling too invincible to need insurance, as many as 76 % felt that they needed the security of having health insurance.
How do we explain this difference? Are Gen Zers a bunch of freeloaders? Not so fast. It’s important to remember that this generation has witnessed one of the major market collapses in history, and they don’t have much faith left that the market is best suited to take care of their own, their parents’ or their grandparents’ health.
We can learn a lot from polls, but the difference, context, depth or valence will be missing if we don’t compare to other data and pre-existing studies. Comparing with other generations and metadata, Generation Z seems to be down to earth, communal and financially realistic.
Image: Wikimedia Commons