Feb 19, 2024 - News

Inside Gen Z's mind

emoji faces over an image of gen z on phones

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Gen Z is America's most diverse cohort yet β€” but they're united by deep anxieties about the world around them, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

  • Why it matters: A collision of political, economic and social trends has minted a generation in which huge numbers of people struggle to cope with the present and feel even worse about the future.

πŸ“‰ By the numbers: Gen Z β€” people roughly between the ages of 12 and 27 β€”reports the poorest mental health of any generation, according to a recent Gallup and Walton Family Foundation report.

  • Just 44% of Gen Zers say they feel prepared for the future.

πŸ–ΌοΈ The big picture: They dodged familiar teen pitfalls β€” with lower teen pregnancy rates and lower rates of alcohol use. Instead, they're grappling with alarming rates of loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts.

πŸ”Ž Zoom in: Partly by choice and partly out of necessity during the pandemic, Gen Z socializes online, rather than in person, far more than previous generations. That's not healthy, experts say.

  • Spending time with people releases certain chemicals in the brain and boosts our mood. "Those things don't happen in the same way when you're texting," says Bonnie Nagel, a behavioral neuroscientist at Oregon Health & Science University.
  • Alyssa Mancao, a therapist in Los Angeles, says her Gen Z client base is constantly comparing physical appearances or career paths with peers and influencers online. "There are a lot of feelings of inadequacy."

🌎 The state of the world also fuels Gen Z's pessimism.

  • An ongoing study at Montclair State University finds that Gen Zers perceive the world as more dangerous than their older counterparts.
  • They're more likely to feel anxiety about extreme weather, and active-shooter drills became the norm while they were in school.
  • They're entering the workforce loaded with student debt, while the cost of housing and other basic needs continues to soar. And AI poses an existential threat to jobs and careers they've only just begun.

"Across the board, my Gen Z clients are overwhelmed with the uncertainty around unemployment and affordable living," says Erica Basso, a therapist with clients across California.

  • "Unfortunately, most have had to rely on their parents for much longer than previous generations and still feel the pressure to hit major milestones like having kids or owning a home by their age, which is simply not realistic for many of my client's situations."

πŸ’‘ Reality check: Despite their anxieties, Gen Z is heavily involved in social and political activism, and they're less emotionally repressed than past generations.

  • "All of my Gen Z clients amaze me with their intelligence, their tolerance and their ability to stay true to their values," Basso says. "These characteristics, combined, can activate great change in the world."

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