The Pulse of Gen Z in the Time of COVID-19
Updated Monday, October 26, 2020
As part of DoSomething.org’s response to COVID-19, we’ve kicked off an ongoing survey to gauge how Gen Z is handling the crisis. With tens of thousands of responses from our members (ages 13–25) from every state in the country, it’s clear young people are feeling the impact deeply.
All eyes on November 3.
Only 2% of young people say they are not concerned about the upcoming election, while 61% indicate they are highly concerned. Of course, the top concern is who will win (63%), but nearly half (45%) list concern over both the spread of conspiracy theories as well as racial inequality/ unequal access to the polls, and 42% are concerned about the influence of biased media coverage. This along with the influence of social media to further polarize Americans (33%) are the only two issues that are nearly even across all political ideologies.
Among those who are of voting age (18–24), 82% shared they are actually registered to vote, and 75% say they already have a plan to vote in the upcoming election. Those who identify as liberal or conservative were more likely to note they have a plan to vote (85% and 82% respectively) than those who identify as moderate (63%). When asked about voting preference, 52% of 18–24 year old shared they’d prefer to vote by mail, but this is divided on party lines: 62% of those who identified themselves as liberal prefer to vote by mail, but only 25% of those who identified as conservative say the same, with 48% of conservatives indicating they prefer to vote in person on Election Day. This divide can also be seen over concern over COVID-19. Over half (55%) of self-identifying liberals note high concern over COVID-19, while only 23% of self-identifying conservatives do. Certainly, Gen Z is not immune to the political polarization that has surrounded the pandemic.
COVID-19 and racial justice top the list of Gen Z voters’ concerns.
For 18–24-year-old voters, the COVID-19 outbreak and racial justice are the top issues behind their vote, with 70% and 69% listing these issues as motivating factors, respectively. Education (66%), health care (62%), and climate change (62%) follow, with climate change revealing the greatest polarization: 80% of those who identify as liberal (43% of total sample) list climate change as a top issue while only 19% of those who identify as conservative (13% of the total) say the same. 52% of those who identify as moderate (40% of the total) list climate change as an important deciding issue.
Just over half (52%) list the economy and jobs as a top concern — with a big split between conservatives (73%) and liberals (46%). This indicates a jump from the general population, as the economy was the top answer when Pew Research asked all registered voters this question Oct. 6–12, with 74% saying the economy was a top issue behind their vote. We know the economy has certainly been top of mind for young people throughout this crisis. When we last asked July 8, 71% said they were worried about the economic impact of the pandemic, with 22% saying they were extremely worried. However, we know for young people issues like racial justice and climate change are urgent crises that demand action now as well as being deeply connected to other issues, including the economy. When it comes to issues, many express deep frustration that politicians on either side of the aisle are failing to take them seriously.
“Not only are we needing to work on getting COVID-19 under control, but we have really been woken up to all the social injustices in our society that NEED to be worked on. We need police reform, we need equity because equality is not enough when some are starting off so far back. We also need to get our sh*t together about climate change. We’re out here not just killing ourselves, but the whole damn planet. We need to do better, and I believe we can.” — 20-year-old, California
“Climate change is the biggest crisis currently facing my generation. I worry about it every day, and this election will determine my generation’s quality of life in the future.” — 19-year-old, Ohio
“I am MOST worried about the policies that have consequences for future generations. (FAR outside the scope of most politicians in either party).” — 23-year-old, Texas
“Some of these [issues] are so important for the future generation and needs to start with a change now but no one listens to them because we are simply “too young” to understand when in reality we know what we need but do not have authority to make it happen so we need a leader who would listen to us.” — 19-year-old, Florida
The stakes feel higher than ever.
It’s clear Gen Z sees and is highly impacted by the divisive political climate in America, as most of them have yet to experience a world of any bi-partisanship. Across the political spectrum, Gen Z seems to view this election as a battle for the soul of America — and for many who see their own human rights and safety on the line in November, the impact is personal. While many Gen Z align with one side or the other in these ways, many fear for the country and our future because of the stark division that’s only seemed to grow deeper as 2020 has continued. When we asked October 15 what is contributing to your stress at this current moment, 46% pointed to the election, and over a third (35%) said they were stressed over the division and polarization in American politics. As a 21-year-old in Maryland explained the reason behind her extreme concern for the election: “I think our whole country’s soul is on the line.”
“Looking back four years ago, I was distraught with the outcome of the election. I had people who I thought were my friends that I feel voted for the wrong candidate. I felt betrayed. How could they do such a thing, when my life was going to be in danger with the new administration’s policies. I know this decision is a matter of life and death for many of my peers and friends. To look away is a privilege and honestly heartbreaking that others don’t feel empathy for their fellow Americans. It’s scary to think people have such deep-rooted hate and racist tendencies.” — 22-year-old, New Jersey
“Although I lean towards being a conservative voter, I am very concerned about Trump being reelected. I’m also very frustrated about the lack of political figures that actually connect with the American people. Furthermore, I’m very concerned about the integrity of our elections being chipped away at between foreign efforts and things being done by the President.” — 21-year-old, Ohio
“So many people’s rights and livelihoods are on the line. The health of the American public depends on this election.” — 18-year-old, Michigan
“I am nervous that whoever wins the next election the country will continue to be divided; a house that is divided against itself cannot stand.” — 20-year-old, Alabama
When asked how they are feeling about the upcoming election, anxious (45%) and nervous (41%) top the list among 18–24-year-olds, which is just slightly lower for 13–17-year-olds at 38% and 41% respectively. These emotions are especially high among those who identify as liberal and largely driven by the uncertainty, with many noting a real sense of urgency that the future will depend on who is elected President. It’s encouraging, however, that above answers like “frustrated”, “overwhelmed”, or “indifferent” — 30% share they feel hopeful.
Young people are also taking action: when asked what they were doing to prepare for the election, 56% said they were trying to learn more and stay more informed on current events/issues that are important to them. One-third (32%) said they are paying more attention to local races like Attorney General, and one in five (21%) are taking actions to make their voice heard, including calling or writing to my elected officials to demand action on important issues.
“Oh my generation is going to have the biggest youth turnout in US history so I’m pretty freakin hopeful that we’re going to create the world that we want for ourselves and our children.” — 19-year-old, Texas
“Being a first-time voter, I want my vote to count and make a difference in this country. I want to make my voice heard in this election and I am going with so much passion to change the injustices that we face today.” — 18-year-old, Florida
Fearing the process and the results.
Over half (51%) of 18–24-year-olds believe voting in the election will be somewhat or very difficult, largely divided on party lines and levels of concerns over the virus. 45% are concerned that not all votes will be counted due to challenges around mail-in voting, and another 44% show concern that the results might not be trusted or otherwise called into question. There is a prevalent fear that not all will be “said & done” once the elections are over, and that chaos and division might continue to ensue.
“I feel like regardless of who wins, there’ll be a lot of turmoil and protests and chaos.” — 23-year-old, New Jersey
“I’m very nervous about voter suppression, and that there will not be enough polling locations available for everyone in the country.” — 23-year-old, Massachusetts
“I think that it is likely that a civil war is on the horizon no matter how the election goes. I am hopeful that this doesn’t happen.” — 18-year-old, Colorado
“I feel like we are screwed either way, don’t half of our representatives hate/don’t believe in climate change?” — 15-year-old, Iowa
Meanwhile, life is going on — and school is a big source of stress.
In our October 15 survey, 82% of Gen Z share they are either moderately or extremely stressed, with only 3% indicating no stress at all. Over two-thirds (67%) say their biggest stress is school, the top answer, with 52% pointing to online learning as a cause of stress. 41% share they’re stressed over concern for mental health for themselves and/or their family members, and 39% indicate stress due to loneliness.
“I feel I was never given a true college experience as my first semester on campus last year was a transitioning semester and I struggled a lot mentally. I am trying my best but I also feel extremely unprepared for the world ahead of me. I am studying to be a teacher but I will not be prepared when I am asked to teach in a classroom that is not virtual.” — 20-year-old, New Jersey
“Although online school isn’t terrible, it makes things plenty more stressful because I am not getting the additional resources that would be offered if I were in school. It’s a disadvantage, basically.” — 16-year-old, California
“I have just started university and it’s been hard to balance life at home and two jobs to pay off my loans just to have classes that feel like I’m in high school or attend courses where the professor doesn’t even prepare Zoom classes. Balancing is the hardest part and finding the motivation and time.” — 18-year-old, Washington
Slightly more are reaching out to a mental health professional to cope with how they are feeling: 9% say they’ve done this now compared to 6.5% when we asked in April. While this number is still small, it’s interesting as it’s one of the few actions that have increased since we first asked. While 63% shared they were using video like FaceTime to connect with friends and family, that has since dropped to 45%. Those engaging in exercise and fitness as a way to cope is down to 46% from 60%; and even slightly less say they are engaging in social media: 30% now vs 34% in April. In fact, we saw a dip in all of the other “activities” that young people were pursuing to help them cope back in April — when the novelty of quarantine likely resulted in a big push towards occupying the time with new hobbies and intentional pursuits. The only other coping mechanism beyond reaching out to a professional that we see more people doing now than back in April is discovering ways to volunteer, donate, or otherwise help others impacted by COVID. 20% report this is helping them cope with how they’re feeling, compared to 17% when asked in April.
Losing Hope in the Future
We’re more than seven months into the pandemic, and Gen Z’s level of concern has remained consistently high since we began surveying in March. The number of those who indicate the highest levels of concern (44%) is nearly as high as the peak on April 8 (48%). Meanwhile, feelings of frustration (64%), nervousness (44%) and disconnection (35%) have also remained quite consistent. When we asked our members how they were feeling at the end of April, 31% shared they felt hopeful about COVID-19. However, starting at the end of July and consistently through our October 15 survey, that number has dropped to 19%.
This loss of hope is reflected quite dramatically in their feelings about the future. When we asked April 29th, “Which of the following statements do you agree with more around what COVID-19 will mean for the future?” 56% said we’ll be better off, as this will allow us to create a better society. When we asked again last week, that number had dropped 18 points: only 38% now believe we’ll be better off as a result of COVID-19, with 38% saying we’ll be worse off, up from 28% in April. Nearly a quarter (24%) believe we’ll be the same, 8 points higher than the April levels (16%).
“I think being isolated for so long will have detrimental effects on society, particularly in regards to mental health. I think people are craving interaction and society. Without the ability to feel part of a great community, I believe we will lose the ability to sympathize and be more understanding of one another, which will only have negative consequences.” — 17-year-old, Washington
“I hope that’s not naive of me but I know how strongly this is impacting my generation and children right now so.. there’s nowhere to go but up. I say that because I have more faith in Generation Z than any other and we’re more understanding of social issues and global health and our role in it.” — 24-year-old, Georgia
Gen Z on in-person learning: thanks, but no thanks.
As schools across the country have begun opening their doors and the debate over IRL or online learning rages on, the voice of young people has been largely missing from current coverage.
If you ask young people directly how they feel about returning to the classroom in light of COVID-19, you’d be likely to get a resounding hard pass. This week, 57% of Gen Z share they would not feel safe to go back to school in person, with only 8% indicating they’d feel very safe. There is certainly a correlation between political identity here — but even among conservatives, most feel some level of uncertainty, with 30% of those who self-identify as conservative sharing they would not feel safe (vs. 67% of those who self-identify as liberal).
Across the board, the top concern is the risk that they might bring the virus home to family members, which we’ve seen consistently since March. More than two-thirds (67%) say they are concerned about this risk, which is slightly higher for high school students (72%) than it is for college students (65%). They also worry that they or their friends might get sick (60%), largely because over half (55%) are skeptical that safety precautions like wearing a mask won’t be taken seriously by other students.
Many of these students share they have opted for online learning if they attend schools where the choice has been given — right now 59% of respondents shared their schools are planning to do a mix of in-person and online classes, while 29% said their schools were going online-only.
“Every time I step outside my house I feel a tremendous fear of bringing something home to my grandfather. We can withstand a semester at home. The world has been through worse, this is a small action needing to be taken for the greater good.” — 17-year-old, Texas
“There needs to be zero cases of Covid-19 in this country for me to feel safe in school. … I would love to go back to school in person but I am petrified that I will be the reason that a family member has died because of Covid-19.” — 18-year-old, Florida
“Due to a member of my family being immunocompromised, unless there is a vaccine or cases drop significantly I will be staying virtual. This will be my decision regardless of promised safety measures because I don’t see them being successfully enforced by the public school system.” — 17-year-old, Texas
There’s resounding skepticism and mistrust that others will follow the rules.
Many students recognize their states are a long way from being in the clear. Particularly as cases rise in many places throughout the country and there remains little consensus around collective responsibility, most are skeptical that a safe return to school is possible. However, if they were to go back, they want meaningful precautions in place and mechanisms for enforcing compliance to the rules.
When we asked “What do you believe needs to happen in order to make you feel more safe to go back to school in person this fall?” the majority (67%) of the comments include steps like everyone wearing masks, limited capacity, use of outdoor space, consistent cleaning, and strict enforcement of proper social distancing. Without a vaccine, known treatment, or strong sense of credible information and leadership, there’s a clear crisis of trust that is keeping young people hesitant.
“We need well enforced rules to enforce social distancing and a COVID outbreak plan that does not have a template of the letter they will send your next of kin if you die because it’s not needed.” — 18-year-old, Missouri
“The case numbers in the town would have to drop. Testing would be regular and mandated. No one could leave campus. Essentially, I would like the NBA bubble, but at my university.” — 19-year-old, Texas
“I will not feel safe in person this fall. No vaccine. No treatment. No school.” — 18-year-old, South Carolina
They remain deeply worried that their education will suffer.
Across all ages and political views, concern about what this all means is high — 69% say they are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their education, with a quarter saying they are extremely concerned. Those who indicate their schools are doing online learning show the highest levels of concern, and overall the biggest worry is missing the benefit of hands-on learning (71%). Over half (52%) of college students are worried about not getting the value of their tuition. And 39% across ages are worried that missing out on in person is going to make them fall behind — many fearing a potentially long-lasting impact.
The FOMO stems from a fear that online learning is not as effective as in-person, particularly for fields of study that cannot be replicated as easily, if at all. Meanwhile, the struggle to stay motivated from home is real — over half (55%) say finding the motivation to get work done is a challenge. Even though the digital world is second nature for this generation, many express frustration that online education is insufficient for true learning. It can also be a logistical challenge for many: 29% worry about having private space to work, 22% do not have sufficient access to the internet, and 15% say they do not have necessary equipment to learn from home.
“So much of my education needs to be in person, like chemistry or biology labs, that not getting it will be very harmful. I don’t know how well I will cope in college if I don’t have the prior experience that I’m supposed to.” — 16-year-old, Texas
“I’m worried I’m not getting as much out of [online learning] as I would normal schooling and I will be behind when I get to college, which scares me even more because my future is the one thing I always focused on.” — 17-year-old, Florida
“I am more of a hands on, visual learner, and learning online is not the best way for me to retain any information.” — 22-year-old, Ohio
“I’m scared to not be fulfilling my full potential while online.” — 23-year-old, Texas
Feeling disconnected is fueling a growing concern for mental health.
The top feeling young people share about online learning is disconnected (42%), and many express a fear that they’re on their own — unable to rely on the support system of teachers, peers, and counselors that they’ve previously been used to. Missing out on in-person activities and extracurriculars like clubs or games is a huge concern across ages, with 66% saying this is their biggest worry around the social aspect of online learning. 62% say they are concerned about not being able to build new relationships with other students and establish new friend groups — which is only slightly higher for those who are starting a new school (70%) than those who are continuing with their current school (59%).
Mental health has been top of mind for young people since quarantine began, and it remains a growing concern for young people who feel increasingly isolated and anxious — 58% say the mental health impacts of being stuck at home instead of at school is their biggest concern. When we asked “Have any causes/issues become more important to you in light of COVID-19?” 70% said mental health (and all issues related to awareness, acceptance, treatment, etc.); up from 65% when we asked at the end of May. Despite age, political identity, or level of concern about the pandemic, mental health has consistently been the top issue for young people.
“Virtual learning may work for some students, but for me, being around other people, laughing, talking, and interacting with them, motivates me to keep going and makes learning much more enjoyable. I am afraid that my grades (I’m a straight A student) will drop if I have to do online learning. My mental health will also decline rapidly if I don’t have in person school.” — 13-year-old, Missouri
“It’s hard for me to learn when I am not in a class and with a teacher there to guide me directly, also not being in class and interacting with students makes me lose a sense of myself, as I continue to do the everyday normal routine of isolation, it really messes up my mental health.” — 17-year-old, Illinois
“Empathy gets lost in translation through online learning and humans learn better when emotions are involved. Emotional learning is just human instinct and a way of life for many. Online learning may disconnect us even more and we need support in this trying time and students need support for their future education.” — 19-year-old, North Carolina
Gen Z is more frustrated than ever, and sees no end in sight.
It’s mid-July and Gen Z’s feeling of frustration over the pandemic has reached an all-time high. 66% report feeling frustrated over COVID-19, 3 points higher than the peak we saw the first week of April (63%). Meanwhile, only 20% now report feeling hopeful — the lowest we’ve seen since we began asking in mid-March.
A clear theme driving the frustration and concern is the polarized divide over what is actually happening and what needs to happen, with some taking every precaution and some throwing caution to the wind and downplaying it all-together. Many express frustration around a seemingly “post-truth” society without clear unifying leadership at the helm — driving anxiety and fear of the continued negative impacts for everyone as their lives continue to be disrupted.
Majority (72%) of Gen Z believe the worst impacts of COVID-19 are yet to come, but there is a clear split along political lines. Less than half (43%) of those who identify as conservative believe the worst is ahead, with more having hope (57%) that we’re already experienced the worst. Meanwhile, only 18% of those who identify as liberal say the worst is in the past.
“Honestly, this virus has taken away our ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel, therefore, making us lose hope for the future. It’s the unsureness of every day ahead of us that perhaps it won’t get better and even if it does there is so much that this virus will and has taken away from us that we won’t get back.” — 19-year-old, Idaho
“I’m scared that people don’t care or prefer to be ignorant towards the scientific facts. Many people think this is part of a political game, but it’s lives at risk of being infected and death. I’m concerned for the well being of all.” — 15-year-old, Florida
There’s more concern over the virus than the economy.
80% of Gen Z say they are worried about the pandemic, with 29% saying they are extremely worried. Meanwhile 71% say they are worried about the economic impact in particular, with 22% saying they are extremely worried. It’s not to say they aren’t taking the hit to the economy seriously — but for the most part, they see that this is not a ‘chicken or egg’ situation. One of these things clearly needs to be addressed first: 90% believe the priority should be getting COVID-19 under control and stopping the spread, while only 10% say the priority should be getting the economy back on track.
A major theme in the concern for the economy is the longevity of the impact, and a lack of any plan that might provide reassurance. How long the economic impact might last is now the top economic concern (59%), with the ability to afford college (57%) and the hit to small businesses (54%) not far behind.
“The lack of leadership is going to make the effects of COVID-19 last even past the virus itself. It’s going to take a long time to get back to normal.” — 19-year-old, Texas
“My biggest concern is how it will affect the future economy and the youth of the country. The worst effects are going to be the lost generation. The people in college or just getting out of school this year will struggle for the rest of their lives.” — 18-year-old, New York
They are questioning the foundation of America.
When we asked “In light of COVID-19 and the current protests for racial justice, have your views on America changed?” 57% said that they had, with 1 in 4 saying their views had changed extremely. For many Gen Z, their entire concept of what America is and stands for has been shaken by how they see leaders in government and citizens respond (or fail to respond) to the challenges of keeping people safe during COVID-19 and responding to racial injustice. Particularly as the pandemic has laid bare inequities and injustices in our society, and the spotlight placed on the longstanding realities of systemic racism — and more time to pay attention — many across the political spectrum express that they just didn’t know or realize the scope of the problems we face.
“Things are coming to light that wasn’t taught in school and that makes me frustrated but glad that I am educating myself.” — 24-year-old, California
“Gross inequity, systemic racism and oppression are rampant in a country that blindly prides itself on being the best. The pandemic and police killings have highlighted this fact.” — 21-year-old, Florida
“I now see America’s true colors, when I was younger I never realized all the wrong in the world.” — 19-year-old, Arkansas
“I still believe in America and the basic freedoms everyone has. I still hope that other Americans can learn to come together, truly listen to each other, and help each other.” — 17-year-old, North Carolina
But they are making plans to turn frustration into action.
When we first asked April 15th, 31% shared they are now more likely to vote in November as a result of COVID-19. Three months later and that number is up to 48%, with 29% saying they are much more likely to vote because of the pandemic. About half (46%) say there’s been no effect on their likelihood to vote, with many stating they always planned to do so.
“I was already going to vote, but now I’m even more motivated to vote because I want the U.S. to have thoughtful and strong leadership during this pandemic so that it’s over faster.” — 19-year-old, Washington
“Covid-19 has shown how many of those wishing to get elected actually feel about the health and protection of people so it definitely affects how and who I will vote for, a change needs to be done.” — 19-year-old, Iowa
Concern over COVID-19 has lessened as calls for racial justice rise.
There’s a clear recognition among young people that what the media (including social media) gives attention to has tremendous influence on what becomes top of mind. Majority of young people raise the same feelings and concerns over COVID-19 that they have had since the beginning, but they also see racial justice as an urgent issue that can no longer be put on hold. Many speak to an understanding that we’re dealing with two pandemics here — 75% of Gen Z are concerned that the impacts of COVID-19 are made worse by racism in America, with over half (53%) saying they are very concerned. Those who identify as liberals (46% of all respondents) are significantly more likely to be concerned (86%), and yet even among conservatives (11% of all respondents), over half (53%) agree.
While half of Gen Z say they have become less concerned about COVID-19 over the past two weeks, more than a quarter (27%) of Gen Z say their level of concern has grown. This jump is largely because they’re worried that people aren’t taking the risks as seriously anymore, and also a concern over what might happen as a result of the protests — 56% of all respondents say their biggest concern about the current protests is the risk of COVID-19 spreading and protestors getting sick.
“The infection and death rate has dropped significantly in NYC where I live. And with everything involving racial justice in our country, I find myself less stressed about COVID and more concerned with the pandemic of anti-Black racism.” — 24-year-old, New York
“The news might not be focusing on the pandemic anymore, but it is still there, which frustrates me.” — 16-year-old, Maryland
“The new discovery of the virus not being able to live on hard surfaces as previously stated was a major relief; however, there are much larger issues at stake than the COVID-19 outbreak so my concern has been more focused on the movement.” — 17-year-old, Colorado
Most see the protests as justified.
83% of Gen Z believe protesting is necessary to make progress to address racism in America, with 67% saying it is very necessary, and support for the protests is nearly as strong among rural Gen Z as it is among suburban and urban Gen Z. Among the political spectrum, liberals and moderates show the greatest support, however, the level of support from conservative Gen Z is at nearly half (46%). When we asked young people about their biggest concern with the current protest, the top answer (61%) was that police escalation of violence will lead to more people hurt, although this is also where we see the greatest divide among those who identify as liberal or moderate (70% and 57%, respectively, selected this answer) and conservative Gen Z (35%).
While the protests have been incredibly significant in size, it’s likely they might be larger were it not for COVID-19: 1 in 4 (28%) share their biggest concern is that they are not able to participate because of the virus. And yet for many, the act of protesting has become especially motivating in light of the general inability to do much else right now. The protests seem to have given many what they see as a very legitimate reason to get out. For all who have been working so hard to follow the rules—this is something that they see as worth it.
“I am a firm supporter of the protests that are happening currently, it really shows how serious that people feel about this issue that they would risk their health and even their lives to speak on this important topic.” — 18-year-old, Texas
“I can’t wait to be part of the protest and riots. My parents don’t let me participate for my own safety but the issue is discussed at home and I’m doing my part at home like supporting black-led business and being active on social media about this issue.” — 16-year-old, California
“Black Lives Matter and that cops should really let us protest peacefully without macing us or arresting us.” — 14-year-old, Texas
“What actions are needed to address the problem of racism in America is for news outlets to stop showing all the bad things about protest like the looting and talk about the bigger picture and why this is happening in the first place.” — 15-year-old, California
Very little trust in government, but still hopeful for society.
Only 10% of Gen Z trust the government to address the problems of racism in America, however, only a quarter are pessimistic overall — 72% say they are hopeful we as a broader society, including as individuals, can do so. There’s certainly realism among Gen Z, with many pointing to a long history of injustice, lack of accountability, and a long way still to go. However, many recognize that there is something different about this moment and its potential to result in real and lasting change at a systemic level. More and more voices are jumping on board. More are starting to put their money where their mouth is. And big, meaningful changes are being discussed in the open that feel radical and real, including defunding the police and ensuring more BIPOC are in positions of power and influence.
“Racists today are more subtle, and how does a government fight a mindset? You can’t make a belief set or bias illegal. This is on the individual people to call it out when and where they see it. Most people are upset about that and that will, over time, gradually change the mindset of the majority.” — 20-year-old, Wisconsin
“[The government needs to] own up to its mistakes and take action by passing laws that defend POC. At the end of the day we can make all the noise and mess we want but nothing will change till there are POC with money taking over those huge positions that decide the fate of America and Americans.” — 21-year-old, Illinois
“I am extremely hopeful for our society’s ability to address the problem of racism in America. While there are people who have racism deeply rooted in their mentality and they often express these views out in public, I believe that those who are advocating for racial equality outweigh those who oppose. Those of us with a voice will continue to speak, and if necessary shout, for those who do not have a voice and we will continue to do so until we create a society in which racism has absolutely no part in.” — 18-year-old, Missouri
Part of this optimism, as we’ve shared previously, is a recognition and pride that Gen Z will be the generation to lead the way — and they already are. There is a personal responsibility that they feel deeply, largely because taking action has already become so deeply embedded into who they are. They know not to sit back and wait or expect an institution or a government to step up and do the work. As we’ve said before—give them the keys.
“For years, I’ve felt hopeless when I’ve seen/read about police brutality in the news. But recently, I’ve felt a shift within the protesters. My generation is coming of age, and we’re entering the workforce and voting for the first time, and we’re fed up. We are ready to make a change.” — 17-year-old, Delaware
“I think my generation, in particular, are incredibly loud and demand change constantly. We’ve got a lot of problems (that we didn’t start) to deal with during our lifetimes — climate change, gun control, police brutality, etc. As shown through the past through weeks with the increase in BLM support, or the rise of March for Our Lives a few years ago, and with the support of so many brands, corporations, public figures, etc. I think change will happen with us.” — 17-year-old, Illinois
“I am encouraging others to try to start making their own platforms. We shouldn’t be waiting for the businesses to support us, and instead create businesses that support our own beliefs. The age we live in has made that easier than ever to try and achieve, but we still have a long way to go.” — 18-year-old, Missouri
“There’s a movement happening and it’s only the beginning. Our generation is going to make history.” — 17-year-old, Minnesota
From Brands, Gen Z wants action.
Only 3% do not expect brands to play a role to address racism in America. While 81% expect brands to use their platform to advocate for justice, including using their advertisements to raise awareness and call for change, it has to go beyond words. 67% want brands to ensure their products and services are designed to serve all consumers across races equally and do not make racism worse, like racial bias in an internet search engine (IBM has recently announced it will make progress here). This is powerful because young people have seen the impact this can have — a number of respondents point to the progress that’s been made in the makeup industry to have shades for all skin tones (duh!).
From there, it’s about your team: 65% wants brands to ensure equal representation in their leadership, including having people of color on their executive team and promoting people of color to management. And 64% want brands to promote diversity in their advertising, like having more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) models. The biggest takeaway from what Gen Z wants from brands right now is aligned with what they’ve always wanted: show, don’t tell. Yes, use your platform. But go further. Those who will win among Gen Z are those who back it up, do the work, and show us the money.
“Brands will only address racism if it is profitable to them, and the message remains diluted by numerous other things such as the creation of a “normal” standard as opposed to the progressive, the normal being the heteronormative white person with a certain body type and orientation. Real change can only come about after we have successfully dismantled this notion built upon centuries of indoctrination.” — 16-year-old, Texas
“We’re getting there, we really are. As a black woman, I appreciate it when companies can come out and voice their support for The BLM Movement or when they show inclusivity for someone of my skin color or hair type. It feels good! The more companies that do it, the better. That doesn’t mean it’s 100% there though. You just have to hope that the companies can educate themselves and learn from those that didn’t go far enough. “ — 17-year-old, Ohio
Especially in the midst of COVID-19 and recent events, young people care deeply about fixing the problem of racial injustice in America.
In light of the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and the global cry for justice their senseless deaths have sparked, we issued a separate survey this past Monday to better understand how young people are feeling about the current environment. 98% shared they are concerned about police brutality toward Black people in the United States, with 79% sharing they are very concerned. Almost all (95%!) believe that the American justice system does not work well and change is needed. Consistently since our surveying began, young people have expressed concern over the racism they see or experience personally — with a particular focus on the xenophobia against Asians and Asian-Americans as well as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community.
Now, there is a growing urgency to demand real change to the system — and young people are leading the way. What are they doing about it? Most are taking the time to do the work on themselves and learn. 72% have started reading, listening, or watching content to better understand the experience of racism in America over the past two weeks. Across all racial backgrounds, there is a recognition of room to grow to become more informed on how we got here and how we can move forward. When we asked, “Are you looking for more resources or learning opportunities to gain a better understanding of racism in society?” 73% of white respondents, 80% of non-Black POC respondents, and 69% of Black respondents said they were actively looking or want to learn. 58% have had a conversation with friends about what they could do to take action, and they are already getting to work in their own homes — nearly half (47%) have had a difficult conversation with a family member about race. Only 8% say they have not taken an action in the past two weeks for racial justice.
“As a Black teenager and the current events with George Floyd, racial inequality has become more clear to me. I have always been aware but it seems that these issues are becoming more prevalent. It’s 2020 and police officers are still using their power for the worse. I am currently in the process of writing an editorial on the George Floyd incident and the BLM Movement in general.” — 16-year-old, Illinois
“I have created online flyers with a QR code linking to a website that has resources for protestors & those who want to support. I also constantly use my platforms to advocate for the BLM & relevant information that the news doesn’t cover. I also try to donate what I can.” — 18-year-old, California
“There are so many issues coming to light due to the outbreak. Racial tensions are rising and the death of George Floyd was the catalyst that caused people to riot. Not only that, but Black people are the most susceptible to the virus due to lack of resources or frequent exposure. A lot of things have been exposed.” — 20-year-old, Florida
Gen Z is continuing to take action on the issues they care about.
Our ongoing weekly survey, which launched last Wednesday May 27th and closed yesterday with 1740 total responses, has shown that racism is only one of the many issues that remain top of mind for young people right now, and they are doing something about them. Since COVID-19 began, 3 out of 4 Gen Zers have either taken an action on a cause they care about (47%) or would like to (29%).
When we asked “Who do you believe should be most responsible to make changes to address the problems that exist in society?” 50% said citizens, a 10 point increase from when we asked this question in 2016. We can see this take shape today as young people across the country have shown up to take part in protests across the nation. Over government (40%), Brands (6%), and Nonprofits (3%) — the majority of Gen Z believe changing the world is on our shoulders as individuals, and they are actively looking for ways they can take action — a huge opportunity for nonprofits looking to engage them.
Right now, the focus is on doing what they can from home given the current restrictions around COVID-19. Actions like signing petitions and raising awareness were the top answers when we asked how they were taking action on the issues they care about. For racial justice in particular, 58% have shared information to raise awareness on social media and 52% have signed a petition over the past two weeks. And, increasingly, they are making plans for further action when it is safe enough to do so.
“The only outlet available to me now is social media. I try to use it to spread the reality and awareness of situations involving racism, discrimination, and environmental issues. I sign petitions, keep myself informed using proper sources, I have switched to a fully plant based diet, I’ve become more aware of reducing my waste (recycling, avoiding plastic as much as I can, little things like that).” — 23-year-old, New York
“I have helped to raise money for and deliver meals to our community’s most vulnerable and have worked to raise awareness via social media about the disparities within the healthcare system and how individuals experiencing poverty are disproportionately affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. I have signed multiple petitions to advocate for justice for Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and I have spent collective hours calling state representatives and law enforcement representatives.” — 18-year-old, Minnesota
“I plan on doing more in-person volunteer work, because I didn’t realize how much it meant to me until it was taken away.” — 15-year-old, California
Mental health continues to be a priority for concern and action as the days go by.
As young people continue to experience anxiety over the pandemic, loneliness and disconnection under social distancing restrictions, and a general sense of overwhelm at the mounting injustices with the loss of innocent Black lives, it’s not surprising that in the past week 65% say mental health has become more important to them in light of COVID. When we asked “What cause or issue would you like to get involved in if you could?”, actions that were mental health-related were the most mentioned (20% of open ended responses). And many are taking action of their own accord — there’s a 17-year-old in Rhode Island shooting a short film on the mental health effects of quarantine in order to help people, while a 16-year-old in New York has created a mental health and wellness guide for their peers.
“While I am angry at what is happening and the police’s response to the protest around the country. More than anything else, I am afraid for my friends and Black people everywhere. And I am worried for their own mental health.” — 24-year-old, Virginia
“I have applied to be a volunteer contact tracer to provide support for patients with COVID19. This includes resources to assist with their financial problems as well as mental health resources. Many forget that with physical disease often is accompanied by mental illness.” — 20-year-old, New Jersey
“I want to continue to write letters to those who are vulnerable to loneliness because I deeply care about mental health during this time especially.” — 15-year-old, New York
COVID-19 will be a catalyst for a future of participation.
Gen Z is already looking forward and making plans for a world where COVID-19 is no longer a threat and social distancing no longer a necessity. They want real change — not just something to take up their time. When we asked, “Which actions do you believe are most important to continue in the future in order to support efforts for racial justice?” 73% said vote — the top answer. Looking past COVID, many share a desire to get more involved, become better informed, and be an agent of change.
“I will definitely get more involved with my community, even go to town meetings if possible.” — 19-year-old, Texas
“I think Covid-19 has been really eye-opening and has motivated and inspired me to really use all the time I’ve got towards getting out there and supporting the issues I care about. I feel more motivated to learn about policies and push for change in local government and work with nonprofits.” — 14-year-old, Ohio
“To support the issues that I have become more aware of I intend to be more vocal about what I believe, vote for people that feel the same, and take part in protests to raise awareness of the issues I care about.” — 17-year-old, Kentucky
(Not quite) indifferent.
Over the past ten weeks we’ve seen a steady ~10% of Gen Z reporting they feel “indifferent” about the pandemic. As we’ve been taking aim at the narrative that Gen Z doesn’t care, we wanted to better understand what might be driving this feeling.
It turns out these young people aren’t entirely indifferent — 75% of them still report being concerned about COVID-19, and 70% who say they are indifferent also report at least one other word/emotion, like sad or hopeful.
For some, there’s the admission that this pandemic hasn’t really impacted them personally much, even if they sense the impact might be coming. For others who share they are “indifferent,” it’s a way to express a feeling that might be more like hopelessness or an inability to make sense of all of their emotions.
“Ever since Covid-19 I have been in a major funk. I feel disconnected from society and have lost the ability to keep track of time. A lot of the time I barely know what day of the week it is. I am sick of being indoors, but it is necessary to keep myself and those around me safe. It is frustrating seeing others carelessly go outside, without a care in the world. But maybe they are feeling disconnected too, and this is how they cope.” — 17-year-old, North Carolina
“(Feeling) all the negative emotions covered by a thin veil of depressive indifference.” — 19-year-old, Iowa
But the current throughout the majority of the indifference is acceptance, even resignation to the situation, and a continued push to focus on the good while maintaining hope that ultimately, we’ll be OK.
“I always try to stay positive, doesn’t matter the situation. I like to see the cup half full… A lot of people tend to talk about the negative aspect about [the pandemic], but because of it I’ve gotten more active. I’ve gotten more resourceful and been trying a lot of different activities and cooking recipes.” — 18-year-old, California
They are finding belonging and connection via virtual events.
69% of Gen Z have watched at least one virtual event, like a virtual prom, virtual graduation or other co-watching live event like In the House since COVID-19 began. And over half (62%) of those watching are participating, such as creating content or interacting with other participants on the stream. While we haven’t seen a strong correlation to joining these events and lower reported rates of disconnection (40% still report feeling this way), the biggest takeaway is how many of these online events have helped Gen Z feel they are staying a part of the things they care about, which has been super valuable and meaningful to them.
“I participated in this event where high schoolers share tips and tricks to excel in high school to freshmen or middle schoolers. That gave me hope because I love the fact that some people put their time into good use and help one another during this pandemic.” — 14-year-old, Texas
“I viewed Live music battles, Live music concerns, Live Facebook stock news, and Live workouts to state a few. I liked the idea that everyone is doing their best to entertain and keep everyone up to date during this difficult time. Also, everyone is connected and can still have a good time while at home.” — 18-year-old, Florida
“I have also viewed a virtual prom on YouTube. I enjoyed the community, and how we all had similar feelings about Covid-19. I felt included and welcome. I felt like I wasn’t the only one in a funk.” — 17-year-old, North Carolina
“Between parties and concerts, I’ve loved seeing people getting out of their comfort zone and figuring out a way to stay connected and to continue living.” — 24-year-old, Florida
Brands’ efforts to provide digital community are getting the love.
When we asked what type of communications and content do you want from brands right now, 34% of Gen Z said they’d want creative opportunities to engage, like livestream events, virtual proms, etc. Yes, they appreciate the entertainment, cool celebs and positive content to fill the down time, but they also see these efforts as a real service to helping them get through the challenges.
“Chipotle does a good job. Recently, they got a famous influencer/ content creator, David Dobrik, to host a live event. They chose someone who was passionate about their business and who was widely admired by people all over the world. I attended because they advertised a virtual prom and a grand prize of a $25,000 scholarship. They also offered a small prize of burritos to 10K people. They know how hard it is for students to attain money during times of unemployment so they made it easy for anyone to enter at “ChipotleAfterParty” on Instagram. — 16-year-old, Texas
“I appreciate how big platforms and companies are keeping seniors like me in mind.” — 18-year-old, Minnesota
It continues to be a challenging time as they reassess future plans.
Over half (56%) of 17 to 21-year-olds say their plans for college have changed or remain up in the air due to COVID-19. From questions around admission (even as colleges move to scrap the testing requirement, many wonder what will happen now that they didn’t get to take the SAT) to their ability to pay for school (13% say they’ll go to a different school that is less expensive), uncertainty abounds.
And the fall isn’t the only big question mark.
Many are contemplating the pandemic’s impact on big life decisions, including where they’ll live or what jobs they’ll pursue. 44% say they will be more likely to live close to family, and over a third say they’ll be less likely to live in a city — largely driven by a desire for safety and a renewed sense of importance and value of being near family members in trying times, and spending time with them in general.
Meanwhile, 60% say they are now more likely to train or look for a job with better benefits or pay — the primary driver of this being a desire for financial stability and security in a world where things like paid sick leave is not a guarantee. As many contemplate what they want to “be” when they grow up, many speak to the ability to give back in times of need such as this — a new or more resolved desire to pursue medicine tops the list.
“COVID-19 has made me more likely to live close to my family as I get older. Some of my grandparents live fairly close to me and I see how having my parents close to them has been a beneficial support system in these uncertain times.” — 18-year-old, Oregon
“I think this situation has been a learning experience on where the best place to work is based on their response to COVID for their employees.” — 21-year-old, Arizona
“The job I choose will be one of those that were considered essential during the pandemic because all the essential jobs were helping people during the pandemic.” — 15-year-old, California
“I know now to be careful with what I do because right now, years from now, or even centuries from now, it could not be safe and there could be a life-changing event. Like COVID-19. …I want to be a nurse to help the people who helped us during this situation.” — 17-year-old, New Jersey
Gen Z wants brands to help them be a force for good.
Well before COVID flipped the world upside down, consumers have been increasingly calling on brands to help them make a difference. This is even more true today — only 5% of young people do not expect brands to engage them to make a difference in light of this crisis. Over half (56%) want brands to provide them with the resources in order to make a difference on their own, and 42% want brands to provide consumers with a volunteer opportunity led by the brand directly.
When we asked which brands jump to mind for doing a good job engaging consumers to help, brands like JOANN Fabric get credit for providing materials and tutorials to make masks. However, there weren’t too many others top of mind here. Despite a real hunger for brands to be a source for action, not many brands are inviting their consumers to take part, or doing so in a way that is reaching young people. When we asked if there was a brand who was doing a good job at this, only 33% could name one.
“JOANN Fabric jumps to mind. They have given away free materials for consumers to make masks to donate. … I have seen many people in my community make a difference by doing this.” — 19-year-old, Pennsylvania
“Spanx is doing a great job in engaging consumers. The founder has already donated $5 million dollars to help female business women during this time and has partnered with Frontline Dine to deliver 2,500 meals per week to workers at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Their ability to bring light to their contributions and find other parties that are hard hit from the pandemic helps inspire their consumers to do the same. In addition, Spanx is creating a differing perspective on this issue allowing for their consumers to seek out other demographics that are impacted by this pandemic.” — 20-year-old, California
And they are taking note of those who are walking the walk.
Employee treatment continues to be top priority for Gen Z and they still want to know what you are doing here: 59% want information on how brands are keeping their employees safe and protected financially, the top answer.
From there, it’s all about who is doing the right thing by local communities. It’s not enough to serve the community, the brands who win favor are those who are seen as a part of the community — their concern and actions are genuine, which allow for a deeper level of trust in a time where trust is hard to come by. But still, there is opportunity here — only 34% could name a brand who was directly helping them or their community, with one 18-year-old in Kentucky sharing, “We’ve kind of just been getting by on our own.”
“Patagonia, whose headquarters is based in my hometown of Ventura, is using its resources to repair 20K N95 masks for the city. I am pleased to see this kind of direct community outreach; it is a model for other businesses to help their communities.” — 25-year-old, California
“Lush is giving back to essential workers, being super honest about how long things are taking because they put their employees health first, and they are also advocating for a variety of social justice issues that COVID-19 has worsened.” — 19-year-old, Minnesota
“Postmates [had a] campaign talking about local restaurants and encouraging people to order in. It gave the spotlight to small businesses and didn’t glorify Postmates, it was just brought up as a way to support them.” — 19-year-old, Colorado
“I’ve seen a few local businesses taking action by utilizing social media to advertise their increased precautions and how they are giving back to the community (free meals, hand-made masks, etc). By showing these actions, it makes me trust them more and gives a personal touch to their messages.” — 20-year-old, Wisconsin
The love goes to the brands providing content that adds value.
When we asked what type of communications and content do you want from brands in light of COVID-19, almost half (48%) shared they want resources to help consumers, like access to mental health support. When we asked which brands come to mind for being helpful to you and your community, there is a big theme around those helping Gen Z mentally — either with a connection to mental health support or content, resources, or products that help them cope or feel more at ease. 47% shared they’d like to see brands share positive and uplifting stories of encouragement.
“A brand that jumps to mind for being helpful to me during this time is Hollister. They have been giving lots of information on how to stay mentally healthy during this time.” — 18 -year-old, California
“The aerieREALpositivity campaign on TikTok is good because it gave people ideas on ways to stay busy during this crazy time.” — 17-year-old, Missouri
“I have appreciated the Met Opera’s daily free opera broadcasts. Those have made a difference in my morale and helped me emotionally and mentally.” — 16-year-old, Pennsylvania
All of this matters because shopping habits are changing — and they are likely to stick.
Nearly all (95%) say COVID-19 has impacted shopping habits now and in a way that Gen Z expects will continue. There’s the obvious: 56% say they’ve started to shop online more with 46% expecting to continue to do more of this in the future. And there’s also the not-so-obvious: 20% are choosing to purchase more sustainable or environmentally-friendly items as a result of this crisis, and a higher number (27%) expect to do more of this post-COVID.
Right now, 83% are currently giving brands the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can and haven’t stopped purchasing from a brand because of the actions they’re taking (or not taking) in this time of crisis. However, 44% want brands to take more action to help, and plan to purchase from those who are.
A parting note — be careful.
As we’ve shared in the past, consistently talking about what you stand for (education) is not the same as constantly talking about what you have done (boasting). Consumers want to know how you are helping at this time of great need, but it’s a fine line. If you aren’t also leading with empathy and pausing on the sales promotions in order to truly understand where consumers are coming from right now — you risk coming across tone-deaf at best.
“I prefer not to praise brands. Most COVID ads are companies patting themselves on the back. No, I don’t want to buy a car I want to eat this week. You can do great things and help the community without telling everyone that you did. Check your motives young people see right through it.” — 20-year-old in California
“Why are these billion dollar companies capitalizing off of a GLOBAL PANDEMIC? It is so appalling because sometimes people truly just need people’s help and sympathy. People that will listen and brands that will accept the events happening in the world and just accept and understand the struggles it could cause for people. Not once should 0% interest come to their minds, just help people, just listen to people, that’s all people want. It’s not about what you own anymore, it’s not about where you’re going anymore, it’s about if you can survive this, if you’re financially stable, if you can adapt and keep your household safe and sane.” — 16-year-old, Texas
Hungry for distraction.
Even though over half of Gen Z are still consuming over an hour a day of COVID-19 content, the majority are on the hunt for distraction. When we asked what types of content have you been seeking lately, the top answers were funny (63%) and wholesome and feel-good (52%). Lighthearted (41%) and “literally anything that distracts me” (35%) follow not far behind.
Most of Gen Z would feel comfortable going back to school.
72% say they’ll go back to school once their state opens back up. This is both because they trust school and also because they miss it so much: many continue to express a growing concern that their education is suffering and are worried about what that might mean for their future, while college students are frustrated they aren’t getting the education and experience they worked so hard to pay for. The reality is school is so important to them — both for the friendships and social structure and for the in-person learning they find themselves lacking — 57% say they’ll value school more as a result of COVID-19. They also trust that school has their safety in mind and will plan accordingly. Back mid-March, they believed their schools responded better to the outbreak vs. the federal government (average rank of 7.5/10 for school vs 5.8/10 for the government).
“I would initially feel very uncomfortable with large gatherings, but I would feel inclined to go to school for education’s sake.” — 17-year-old, Michigan
“Going to school is necessary in this day and age. Not to bash on online school, but it can only do so much.” — 18-year-old, Florida
But besides school, 2 out of 3 believe going back to “normal” activities feels too risky.
Even going to a friend’s house gets a split vote — with 56% saying they’ll wait it out. Activities like going shopping (63% no), going out to eat (70% no), and going to the movies (81% no) have higher rates of hesitation, largely because of the lack of personal control. There’s a dependency on everyone else to collectively follow the rules — and we aren’t seeing it yet. Young people are deeply concerned there will be a big rush of people going out, resulting in a second wave or spike of infections that many want no part of. A lack of trust is a present theme throughout the reasons to wait it out at home. Especially in light of the mixed messages received to date and the apparent prioritization of the economy over human lives — many share a desire to listen to the experts over government officials right now. For brands and businesses looking to reopen—taking, enforcing, and clearly communicating precautions is going to be key to getting young consumers comfortable.
“If I’m not confident in the ability of others around me in a particular environment to act safely, there’s no way in hell you’ll find me there. Volunteering is the only thing I would consider because I trust the organizers and the people around me.” -18-year-old, Texas
“Why would I wait, if all those things are fun? Yes they are fun, but I have to think about my family whom I live in the same house with. I have my mom with a low immune system after she had my baby sister. My baby sister gets sick easily. Now imagine me going to have fun for one night, and coming back home infected with the virus. … We can’t be selfish and just go out because social distancing was lifted.” -15-year-old, Texas
There are many things Gen Z believes they’ll do more of post-COVID, largely due to an increased appreciation.
All along we’ve seen Gen Z take note of the silver linings and finding the good amidst the fear and frustration. This can be seen in all of the things they note they’ll be more likely to do once this crisis is over: spending more time outside (59%), slowing down (55%) and spending time with friends in person (55%) top the list. They have a newfound appreciation for life and want to live it to the fullest, but not recklessly. Instead, they’re smart and cautious — eager to get back to doing the things they might have taken for granted before, but now more likely to keep supplies like masks and gloves on hand (54%), make an effort to save money (49%) and cook their own meals (40%, largely noting they’ll do so in order to save money!).
Having grown up witnessing the impact of the Great Recession and the crisis that is student loan debt— this was already a generation with a bent towards security and saving. This will become all the more true as we enter into a post-COVID world.
“I would be way more cautious with my actions. Making sure my hygiene is better than ever and trying to avoid large crowds for a while. I would like to maintain a healthy way of life that incorporates some of the things we learned about self care during the pandemic.” — 17-year-old, New York
“If there’s one thing this COVID-19 pandemic has taught me, it’s that daily life in our society moves unbearably fast. When I return to “regular life” — if that’s what’s going to happen — I will view the world with a more measured outlook, I’ll appreciate the calmer moments of life. I won’t rush into the next activity of the day as fast, instead I’ll appreciate my life for what it is, as I have already begun to do whilst in isolation.” -18-year-old, Maine
“I will be more actively aware of the moments I have with people and cherish them a little deeper. … I would do anything to watch a sketchy horror movie with a 2% review on Rotten Tomatoes with my dad, something I used to dread because the acting was too painful to bear. I will be more appreciative and much more aware of what I have, regardless of how good or bad it be.” — 18-year-old, Florida
“Save more. Prepare more. Plan more. Work out more. Enjoy the outdoors more. Not take as many things as granted as I did before.” -25-year-old, Texas
And they are anxiously awaiting the return of IRL.
When it happens, the IRL comeback will be big (and glorious). 27% say they believe they’ll be less likely to use social media after COVID-19 than before (!). For a generation known as “digital natives” that might sound surprising, but Gen Z has continuously been telling us how much they miss real-world interaction, and how much more they’ll value what they increasingly realize technology cannot replace. It’s the common theme among the top things they believe they’ll do more of, with a plan to savor it as they do.
“Distance makes the heart grow stronger. The daily activities that I use to participate in were once perceived as a nuisance. I would distract myself at parties by checking my phone, not remind my family how much I appreciated them at gatherings, and occasionally dread going to practice. After social distancing requirements are lifted, I foresee myself with bountiful appreciation.” -18-year-old, Michigan
“I’ll spend less time online. Appreciate every-day types of freedom. Stay closer to my little sister. Increased resilience and optimism. Thinking beyond my own problems to remember others are suffering too.” -19-year-old, Washington
The longevity of this crisis is taking a toll.
Young people across the country continue to feel a high sense of frustration (57%) and nervousness (49%), while concern remains high at 93%. The reality of no clear end in sight has become more of a core driver of concern and feelings around it, particularly as disagreements mount on if/how to ‘reopen’ and the estimated death toll climbs. The impact continues to be felt on a personal level and there are much more questions than answers.
“I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect. Am I going to be able to go to college next year? Will I get to go on vacation during the summer? How long will it be until we get back to our normal routines? These are all questions that run through my head constantly every day.” — 18-year-old, Indiana
“I think my biggest concern with Covid-19 is being unable to get the virus under control. This is my biggest worry because if we aren’t able to control the virus there is no telling on how long the outbreak will last. Not only that but families and individuals that will be harmed by this outbreak. Whether that harm is physical, financial, or mental it is something that is scary for all of us.” — 19-year-old, New Hampshire
Gen Z is taking action.
There is a direct correlation between the reported level of concern and number of actions taken to make a difference — and the most concerned are the most searching for opportunities to get involved. 83% see heeding social distancing as an action they are taking to help, but this isn’t all they are doing: only 3% say they are social distancing and nothing else. On average, young people have taken 6 actions to make a difference in response to COVID-19: They are changing their consumption habits (63%), intentionally buying local (53%) and fostering connection: 68% have reached out to someone who might be lonely or struggling and 48% have created a virtual event to bring their community together.
And they are eager to do more.
Only 8% don’t want to get involved in efforts to make a difference in light of COVID-19. Most are either actively looking for opportunities or eager to help but unsure of where to start.
Over half want to get involved with organizations on the front lines of relief efforts, but 40% are also concerned about issues not getting enough attention right now and want to engage with non-profit organizations addressing issues non-related to COVID-19. Gen Z has and continues to care about so many issues. Particularly when it comes to mental health and climate change (an issue where hope for our collective response is one of the top reasons they believe we’ll be better off as a result of this crisis) — Gen Z still wants progress and they want to take part.
“Maybe it would show people who are ignorant of environmental issues that humans are the root cause of those issues and after the outbreak is controlled and quarantine is lifted, we can take action to help the environment around us by reaching out to authorities to pass laws.” — 17-year-old, New York
They are optimistic, but this is primarily driven by individual and collective action versus institutions and policy.
84% believe we’ll be changed by COVID-19, and 56% say we’ll be better off. When we asked What do you believe will be positively impacted as a result of COVID-19? The top 5 answers all center around things we can do as individuals to be better humans, with 49% believing volunteering and individual impact on society will be positively impacted. Young people who are taking some action now are more optimistic that we’ll end up better off, and this is likely because they know full well their capacity to make positive change.
“I am really losing faith in our government and don’t expect change to come until I or other people like me start to replace those in government currently.” — 18-year-old, Oklahoma
“COVID-19 has exposed several problems in our society, problems that root back to a system we’ve relied on for decades. There is much to improve and build off of in this country, and I believe that my generation may just have the guts to do it!” — 18-year-old, Washington
Though optimistic, they are not disillusioned.
This is really hard on young people who are well aware they are entering what will be the worst job market in American history that we can remember. 35% believe it will take longer than a year for the economy to recover once COVID is over. Of the 28% who think we’ll be worse off as a result of COVID-19, 55% speak to the economic impact. Our respondents list twice as many things that will be negatively impacted than positively impacted by this crisis. Of those they believe will be negatively impacted, the top answers reveal an alarm and concern for those who are already vulnerable. This crisis is laying bare the realities of disparities that exist in our society.
“I feel that the pressure being placed on disadvantaged communities, as well as youth whose education and career are being put on hold, are not being addressed in a way that will allow them to rebuild after this crisis. I do hope for positive change, but I believe that it will come after a long period of struggle.” — 17-year-old, Florida
“I just don’t think those in charge are willing to make the big changes necessary for a better society. The response from a lot of local governments has been disappointing and has revealed the true class, race, gender, etc. divisions that exist in our culture that much more clearly.” — 19-year-old, Pennsylvania
Mental health continues to be a focus.
Over half (54%) of Gen Z think this crisis is going to impact people’s mental health negatively, with 48% saying they believe their own mental health will be negatively impacted. Sadly, not as many are seeing the positive impact for themselves: only 18% believe their mental health will be positively impacted, vs. 30% believing there will be a positive impact on mental health for everyone else. While Gen Z is appreciating the silver linings that might come of this — including the time to slow down and focus on self-care —the loss of social structures, including their routines and time with friends, has been really hard.
“My biggest concern is how people are seeking the help they need concerning their mental health when we are social distancing.” — 17-year-old, New York
“Staying inside, I feel a severe lack of social interaction and my anxieties about the future are non-stop. From trying to imagine when I will be able to return to school, to imagining the job market upon gradation, stress constantly degrades my mental well-being.” — 19-year-old, California
Gen Z is deeply worried about the economic impact of COVID-19.
92% of Gen Z are worried about the economic impact of COVID-19 and 51% share they are very worried. While overall concern about the COVID-19 outbreak has peaked this week (94%), more indicate they are very worried about the economy now vs. the virus (51% vs. 45%). And 78% are not confident that the economy is going to recover quickly.
The economic hit is personal.
Only a quarter of young people have not been impacted by job loss. Among 18 to 25-year-olds, nearly 40% have personally lost their job, and their ability to afford college is their top concern right now (69%). At the same time, 43% are worried about their family’s ability to afford basic essentials and pay the bills. And many are frustrated that government aid isn’t reaching them.
“I was furloughed and am still currently unemployed. … I am constantly seeing news about the virus and yet I sit at home worrying about how I’m going to pay my bills with my savings having run out, or how I’m going to be able to move in August for school.” — 25-year-old, Kansas
“With all that is going on I get scared because I know I’m mostly on my own to pay for college and need to make thousands appear out of thin air.” — 17-year-old, Texas
It isn’t only the immediate impacts they worry about.
38% are worried about the financial impact on their future. Over half are worried about how long the economic tolls might last and a third fear for their future job prospects. They understand the bigger implications that the unemployment rate and stock market have on individuals and vulnerable populations. And they are very aware that their generation will bear the brunt of decisions being made today — the weight of uncertainty around what this might mean for their future is a heavy burden.
“I’m afraid this outbreak means I will be entering the job market at the worst time in decades. This will significantly hurt my income prospects coming out of college.” — 17-year-old, Georgia
“I personally like to have things planned out ahead of time. However, once this pandemic began I found myself very unsure on what my future would look like. For someone who is about to move across the country alone that kind of uncertainty has been very unnerving.” — 17-year-old, Texas
They are questioning who our economy is serving.
Concern for those who are most vulnerable and small businesses has been top of mind since we began this survey. Now, as young people start to think about what should define the ‘normal’ we go back to once COVID is over, many are questioning the system that got us here in the first place. Big business vs. small business, have vs. have not — these societal rifts are mentioned frequently, particularly as they watch who is benefiting from the government stimulus. When we asked, In light of the impact of COVID-19, what do you believe needs to change or be different about our economy in the future? The vast majority speak to a desire to fix a broken system: they want an economy that works for all of us. Many are blown away by the speed with which a virus has exposed the fragility of our economy and who gets left behind. They want safety nets — 89% include economic action as part of what they want the government to prioritize in their response, including more financial support for individuals (73%) and small businesses (59%).
“The cracks have been exposed, and the people who are suffering most right are the ones that were barely getting by before the pandemic.” — 16-year-old, Florida
“It seems clear to me that there needs to be more safety nets in place for small businesses and individuals. The delegation of funds and emergency programs is going to all the wrong people. It’s going to the people who have more money than they could ever spend in their lives while other people are getting evicted from not being able to pay rent with the money they aren’t making anymore.” — 18-year-old, Nevada
“It is unfair for corporations to get bailouts from the stimulus package while small businesses continue to struggle.” — 19-year-old, Ohio
Despite their economic distress, young people still don’t think we’re ready to ‘reopen’ any time soon.
Gen Z is indeed very restless to get back to their pre-COVID lives. But even as states across the country begin lifting restrictions on social distancing, Gen Z is doubtful. 88% believe social distancing measures should stay in place because the risk of COVID-19 spreading is too high. And in states like Georgia who have begun to relax the rules, concern is even more pronounced: 92% in Georgia are worried the government will lift restrictions on social distancing too fast (vs. 82.5% overall).
“I feel frustrated and unhappy about the situation due to a lot of careless people in the world. Governors opening things up so soon, without locking a country or state down puts more people at risk. This isn’t a game but a lot of people feel like it is.” — 18-year-old, Georgia
“My biggest concern is that society as a whole will reopen too soon and it will cause another escalation in the number of cases and we’ll have to go through quarantine and everything else all over again.” — 15-year-old, California
Even if ‘reopened,’ nearly 4 out of 5 do not feel confident about going back to daily activities.
The world still does not feel safe. Gen Z knows much is dependent on collective action, which is currently deeply frustrating to them. They’re increasingly angry about people not taking social distancing measures seriously, in part because they have had to give up so much in order to do so — it isn’t fair. Many discuss a fear of a second wave of the virus making all of the current quarantine efforts for nothing and further delaying how long it will take to really move on. This is why, when we ask what will make you more confident to go back to ‘normal’, the top answer (77%) is a proven vaccine and 80% want vaccine and prevention measures to be government priority. If there’s a vaccine, there’s no longer a need to count on others to take the risk seriously.
“I’m really concerned with everyone’s wellbeing, with people pushing to go outside it’s only going to cause the virus to spread faster. I’m just confused about how this would affect my upcoming college applications next school year and whether or not people’s attempts to reopen the economy would further elongate the quarantine.” — 16-year-old, California
“We all need to take this seriously so we can go back to our normal lives. Being inside and not socializing is not living.” — 18-year-old, Texas
Despite all of these concerns and stressors, hope was the only reported emotion that saw a slight jump this week from last. 29% share they are hopeful even though they are far from ‘over’ all they have lost and the other frustrations they are experiencing. Many include a caveat when they are sharing their concerns. They are fearful, but they know we will eventually get to the other side. They are heartbroken, but they are grateful for the silver linings: 39% of those who said they are hopeful mention the good they believe will come out of this crisis, and they are already noticing the good happening right now. Despite everything, they are looking forward to how this will make us — and themselves in particular — stronger and more resilient.
“Seeing that COVID-19 patients are unable to have their loved ones by their sides while they battle this disease is heartbreaking, and I worry about how long this trying time will stretch. However, anxiety and feelings of defeat are not all that’s left. From organizations like Mask Match and Feeding America, to YouTube videos of balcony concerts and virtual game nights, there are so many things that make me believe in the resilience of humankind.” — 17-year-old, Kansas
Emotions peaked the first two weeks of April. Now, more are fatigued and restless.
Gen Z’s feelings about the pandemic, including frustration (58%) and nervousness (45%), have returned to the levels we saw at the end of March. However, there has been a shift in tone. The initial shock and emotional peaks of a few weeks ago have evolved into a restlessness: how much longer is this going to last before we can get back to our lives?
“I am frustrated because I want to see my friends. I am tired of social distancing but know I must comply.” — 18-year-old, Virginia
They are paying attention to how the government is responding. And they plan to do something about it.
Gen Z hasn’t forgotten about the election. 53% are consuming content around the election more than an hour a week, and 22% are spending at least one hour a day on election content. Because of COVID-19, 31% share they are now more likely to vote in November. While most haven’t changed who they plan to vote for, the crisis has made them more resolved in their choice, and it has certainly changed their views on government itself. 83% share COVID-19 has impacted their views on the role of government.
“It hasn’t influenced my vote but it sure has made me open my eyes to how leaders help their people at a time of crisis like this. It has made me pay more attention to what kind of laws and bills they pass.” — 18-year-old, Connecticut
The biggest spike in concern this week is for their education.
Concern continues to be driven by the spread of the virus and the economic impact, but 17% of open-ended comments speak to the challenges of online learning and fears of falling behind, up from 7% last week. Students doubt the quality of online learning and miss the in-person guidance of teachers, counselors, and peers. They worry that they won’t be able to take important tests and lose their chances of getting into their dream school, that they won’t be able to start college in the fall because incomes are now at risk, or that they are not getting the level of education they already had to scrape by to pay for.
“In home education has many downfalls, such as the lack of human interaction and guidance in completing assignments/learning new materials. I have also been very worried about the SAT being postponed, especially because of my interest in applying early decision to college, without having yet taken the exam.” — 17-year-old, Illinois
“My biggest concern is my education. I want to ensure I am still on track to graduate in the year 2022. I want to finish high school with the best grades I can get to get accepted to the best college for me.” — 16-year-old, California
However, they are far from passive.
Over a third (34%) share they are doing online learning, unrelated from school. They are turning to apps like Duolingo to learn new languages after their classes were cancelled, and searching YouTube for content to get ahead on classes they had planned to take in the fall or to learn a new skill.
“This change to an online setting has been quite difficult for me as I do not learn as well online. When I do get my work finished, I have signed up for classes on different sites to learn more and improve myself.” — 19-year-old, Texas
Mental health and self-care are a quarantine priority.
While only 7% share they’ve reached out to a mental health professional or resource to cope with how they are feeling, many are actively taking this into their own hands, with a big focus on pursuing healthier habits, including exercising — equally as many young people are doing indoor fitness (61%) as bingeing their favorite shows and movies (61%). 1 in 5 are meditating and the same number have turned to journaling.
“I’ve just been working on myself. I’ve been working out, cooking quite a bit, and really just keeping my mind busy. I’ve been taking things day by day. But I really have been starting to put myself first and focusing on my mental health. Self care is vital.” -18-year-old, Georgia
Many are finding an outlet in art and creativity. 58% share they’ve picked up a new activity or are doing more of something they already love since COVID-19 started. Cooking (50%) and baking (45%) are top activities. 32% have started or are doing more drawing and 27% are writing. Crafting, including scrapbooking, knitting, and card-making, is not far behind.
“I am getting to know my dad more, painting as a way to relax, and I have also found a new talent I never thought I had which is drawing.” — 18-year-old, New York
Concern continues to grow, with health and the economy at the forefront.
93% of Gen Z is concerned about COVID-19, with 49% sharing they are very concerned — up from 40% in a week. Whereas the initial concern was focused on all that they are missing out on, the urgency now is a desire to stay healthy — 63% say keeping themselves and their loved ones healthy amidst the spread of the virus is their biggest concern. 35% say the economy is top of mind, including a concern for jobs and financial stability.
Brands take note: Gen Z is watching.
While Gen Z is not buying like they used to — 89% said COVID-19 has impacted their purchasing decisions, with 58% saying it has had a significant impact — they’re still paying attention to how brands are responding to this crisis.
23% have stopped purchasing a brand because it hasn’t taken enough action to help in the midst of this crisis or it has acted in a way they don’t like. And nearly half have bought or plan to buy from the brands that are taking more action to help.
Taking care of employees remains a top priority for young people — 67% want brands to keep them informed on how they’re supporting employees and the broader team. This has remained consistent week over week since the pandemic began.
Gen Z has slightly more trust in brands to fix the challenges caused by COVID-19 than the government (32% vs 29%). Not surprisingly then, they want to know how brands are pitching in — 66% want brands to keep them informed on how they’re helping during this pandemic. In fact, 75% call out a brand they love more because of their response to COVID-19 — from taking care of their employees to donating financially to relief efforts and providing needed supplies in the fight against this virus.
Top mentions go to local shops, like local breweries for making hand sanitizer, or favorite restaurants for giving out free food to families who have been laid off. Of the national brands, Crocs earned a top mention for giving away 10K pairs of shoes every day to healthcare workers. Nordstrom made the list for helping produce masks, in addition to continuing to pay employees. Coca-Cola’s messages to promote the importance of social distancing were applauded.
“A brand that I love more now, because of their response to the current events is Nordstrom. I love how they used their money and resources to help solve the problem while also using their big platform to shine light on the issue and bring it to their customers attention to get people involved and to help support the cause.” — 18-year-old, South Carolina
When asked if there’s a brand you like less because of their response to the crisis, 47% had one top of mind, with responses best summed up by an 18-year-old in New York as: “Any brand that keeps going as usual.”
The biggest reason for landing on this list is unsurprising: not taking care of your employees. 42% of brands mentioned here are called out for this in particular. Amazon received top mention as a brand Gen Z likes less by a long shot for reports of overwork and underpay, inadequate paid sick leave, and a sense of prioritizing profit over safety. While Walmart gets credit by some for keeping employees on payroll and protecting benefits, they received an equal number of negative comments centered entirely around not protecting employees better. Meanwhile, multiple respondents echoed this 22-year-old in Minnesota calling out: “Sephora, laying off over 2,000 employees via 3-minute conference call.” That news got around quick.
“[A brand I like less is] Walmart because they did not act fast enough to protect their employees and I still do not think they are doing enough.” — 19-year-old, Oklahoma
It’s also important to remain sensitive to what consumers are going through or risk coming across as tone deaf or opportunistic. There are a number of callouts for brands losing favor among Gen Z for peddling sale prices within their standard programming or blatantly using it as a marketing strategy.
“Most brands out there, they are so concerned about making money, it is ridiculous. Promoting their brand with sales trying to get people to buy things when so many Americans have lost their jobs!!!” — 17-year-old, Florida
The biggest opportunity for brands?
Invite consumers to take part! 49% said they want brands to provide or connect consumers to ways that consumers can make a difference. We’ve seen initiatives like Lowe’s call to DIYers for homemade thank-you signs for healthcare workers, Steak-umm’s fundraiser for Feeding America, and ESPN’s #oneteam Challenge that creates weekly asks of young people to make a difference for those affected by COVID-19. And there is so much more brands could be doing. (Need ideas? Let us know!)
Concern is growing.
91% of Gen Z are concerned about the coronavirus outbreak, with 40% sharing they are very concerned — up from 34% three weeks ago. Nearly 2 in 10 indicated the highest level of concern, up from 1 in 10. Nearly half (49%) mention concern about the virus, and the risk of loved ones, particularly grandparents, getting sick or dying. 16% mention concern for the economic impacts of this crisis, including the impact on the broader economy and on their family directly.
Concern might be growing because they are inundated with content. The majority — 51% — spend at least 1 hour/day consuming COVID-19 content; 13% spend 3 or more hours/day. 49% spend around or less than a few hours a week with only 7.5% saying “Rarely, if at all”.
And it’s a common conversation topic among family and friends. When we asked how young people are staying informed on COVID-19, 60% shared through family. 52% head to local news sites like The New York Times and 51% turn to Network television news like CBS. 40% shared they are staying informed via their friends.
“Being a young adult that suffers from anxiety during this pandemic is very overwhelming. Constantly worrying about if our current situation will come to an end or if it is permanent. Some days are better than others but every time I watch the news or get on social media, I am reminded about how real this is.” — 18-year-old, Alabama
More are feeling sad as the reality of cancellations sinks in.
“Frustrated” is still the top response to how young people are feeling (63%), up 9 percentage points from March 18th. However, the biggest jump has been feeling sad: 55% shared they were feeling this way, up from 33% three weeks ago. In the initial uncertainty of it all, many were worried that key events like graduation might be cancelled, but they remained hopeful. Now it’s sinking in that some of these ‘once in a lifetime’ long-anticipated moments are most likely gone.
Of those who shared they were sad, 61% expressed heartbreak and disappointment for events and opportunities they had been dreaming about or preparing for: the hopes for a magical prom, the anticipation and pride of graduation, the hard work of off-season training for a spring sport that is cancelled, the money earnestly saved up for a trip, the hours put in for a drama performance that likely won’t happen. Compounding these feelings, 9% express guilt over “being selfish” for having these feelings in spite of everything else going on.
They are sad, but they are also angry to lose these key moments. Over one third now report being “angry”, up 10 percentage points since we first asked. A frustration with the government’s response is driving some of this anger, but most are angry important milestones like graduation are gone.
“I know it may seem selfish, but I just cannot fathom the fact that I will not have a graduation ceremony. My parents won’t watch me receive my diploma, after all they sacrificed for me to have this education in America. I never got to experience prom or grad-nite at Disneyland. Most importantly, I never got to say good-bye or thank you to those people who helped me become who I am today.” — 18-year-old, California
They are missing IRL.
A feeling of disconnection has grown 8 percentage points—from 40% three weeks ago to 48% this week—as the majority voice that technology can only do so much. The impact of social distancing is hitting young people especially hard. It’s also contributing to the spike in feeling sad: 42% specifically call out being physically disconnected from their friends and family for why they are feeling this way.
Despite all of the tech at their fingertips, most acknowledge it’s a poor comparison to IRL interaction, and they are missing it. When we asked “What is one thing technology cannot replace?” Gen Z placed a big emphasis on what is “real”, “genuine”, and “human.” There is a pervasive loneliness people are experiencing even if they are able to connect virtually. 71% say elements of true connection are irreplaceable, including face-to face interaction and physical touch. 14% mention experiences like eating out at restaurants and getting fresh air, and 13% point to emotions like love and joy.
“COVID-19 has definitely impacted my mental health more than I ever thought it would. I never realized how much seeing my friends/different faces everyday and socializing was really needed until now. It is really tough feeling useless because you have nothing to do. I am even tired of being on my own phone.” — 17-year-old, California
An appreciation for new values is emerging.
Platforms that offer both entertainment and connection get the most love.
We asked: “If you could pick one app or platform that is making your quarantine more bearable, what would it be?” TikTok takes the cake with 20% of the responses, while 14% mention YouTube. Of course, these are Gen Z faves to begin with, but many share these picks for more than laughs: the sense of community built around these platforms is a top mention, along with the efforts they are taking to keep users informed about the current crisis.
Time is of utmost value. When we asked, What is one good thing that could come out of this crisis? The most frequent mention across the board is time (24% of open-ended responses), be it a shift on continuing to take time to connect with family, pursue certain passions, or to slow down, reflect, and prioritize self-care. There is a common thread of lasting appreciation and not taking all of the usual things for granted once the need for social distancing has been lifted — 15% of responses mention this specifically.
“I feel like everyone will be spending more time outside with people and away from technology and social media after this is over. I have also gained a new appreciation for my friends and learned to not take any days with them for granted.” — 17-year-old, South Carolina
Some are seeing the silver linings already. 35% share they feel hopeful, up from 28% three weeks ago. Many of those who express hopefulness say that not only will we get to the other side of this, but that we will come out better. And, despite the realities of this crisis, many Gen Z are seeing the good.
“[One good thing] by far it is that our earth is happy and so much healthier so I’m glad that at least one good thing is coming out of this crisis. We owe it to our earth after years and years of pollution.” —13-year-old, Tennessee
Gen Z is recognizing the positive environmental response to a reduction of human impact — 13% of the open-ended responses speak directly to this. Of course, the climate crisis continues to be top of mind for Gen Z, many of whom are continuing a climate strike from home, and they are encouraged by the proof that yes — we can turn this ship around. They will continue to raise their voice that any next steps from this pandemic include major changes to protect the planet (most likely with additional pressure on lawmakers to support components of the Green New Deal).
They want brands to prioritize employees.
When we asked, “What do you believe is the role of brands in light of COVID-19?” The top two answers focus on employees. 75% said brands should ensure employee and consumer safety: including offering delivery or closing stores and 73% said they need to protect employees financially, including providing paid sick leave and avoiding lay-offs. This was the key trend among which brands were called out for taking an active, positive role amidst the pandemic: the number one mention by a wide margin was for prioritizing a brand’s own employees. Walmart, Target, and Starbucks all received top mentions for doing so.
They are being intentional to “see” each other more.
35% mention texting as a key way they are staying connected with their community, but undoubtedly, video conferencing tools are certainly having a moment. 27% mention using FaceTime and 22% mention Zoom to connect with their community, and there’s frequent mentioning of scheduling time to connect: every night at 10pm for a movie using Netflix Party, or virtual brunch every Saturday morning
“I use Zoom and Skype mostly for studying and to see friends face-to-face. I am a very physical person, so being in quarantine is unfortunate, but I care more about my loved ones who are more at risk than myself, and video conferencing is the next best thing to getting together to hang out.” — 17-year-old, Texas
When we asked: What are you most thankful for right now in the midst of this crisis? 62% mentioned family, the top answer above gratitude for health & safety (40%). There is a lot of hanging out with family happening — from exercising together to completing plenty of puzzles — 27% share family is who they are reaching out and staying connected to (after friends, at 46%).
They think the states are doing a better job here.
On a scale of 1 (Very Poor) to 10 (Excellent), Gen Z gives the Federal Government’s response to the crisis a 5.8, while the state government’s response rises to 6.9, on average.
Most feel the government did way too little at the beginning of this and continue to feel that the government is not doing enough. What do they want more of? Stricter requirements and enforcement around social distancing (18%), broader access to testing and support for healthcare workers (16%) and increased financial help for citizens (16%) top the list.
“It’s important to be aware and to spread information to combat the intent of false information. I believe that the Federal Government should have taken action sooner, and we should have been more prepared. As of today there is still a lot of denial about the seriousness of the crisis…. As my teacher has said, ‘Knowledge is power, power is freedom, and we could all use more of that.’” — 23-year-old California
Feeling all the feels.
89% of the 3,301 Gen Z respondents are concerned about the coronavirus outbreak, with 34% sharing they are very concerned. 1 in 10 indicated the highest level of concern. When we asked: “What best describes how you feel about the COVID-19 outbreak?” responses were: 54% Frustrated; 49% Nervous; 40% Disconnected; 33% Sad; 28% Hopeful; 14% Angry; 12% Indifferent
Respondents were then given space to explain this answer, we analyzed the open-ended questions for those who shared they were frustrated and/or nervous. 49% share the biggest source of their frustration is all that they are or will be missing out on, from the season they trained so hard for to the graduation they’ve been working towards for 12 years. Seemingly overnight, young people went from looking forward to milestones they’ve long dreamed about to being catapulted into a void of uncertainty about their future.
“A lot of my opportunities are being canceled. It is frustrating that I have worked so hard in high school and in my last semester, everything is going downhill. It is even affecting my college decision. My parents are worried if I move far, but I have worked so incredibly hard throughout the past 3 years of high school and now because of the virus, it seems like all my hard work was for nothing.” — 17-year-old, Ohio
All of the uncertainty is overwhelming.
Full of questions about what is happening, how long it will last, and what it means for their future, a sense of nervousness and anxiety is largely being driven by all of the non-stop news coverage of the virus. Of those who shared they were nervous:
- 48%: Are concerned about the safety, health and well being of their loved ones (esp. family members — parents, grandparents, etc. Also friends, siblings, sig. others, really — anyone in their lives) — they don’t want them to get sick, very sick, hospitalized or die.
- 47%: What is going to happen in regards to things they are/were currently involved in (esp. school in progress) and plans they have for the future (esp. next steps in school). Everything’s been cancelled. There is anxiety about knowing what to do next and doing it.
- 40%: Getting the virus and getting very sick or even dying.
- 23%: People being a carrier / spreading the virus to others: They do not want to be the cause of someone else getting sick, people don’t know they are spreading it.
“I have been afraid of the unknown for as long as I can remember. The unknown is what perpetuates my various fears like that of death, the dark, and my future. So, the fact that this virus has flipped the world on its head has left my head in shambles. Various activities that I have been looking forward to having been canceled have left me hopeless and afraid. I am nervous about my mental health, physical health, and educational experience. Along with this, I am worried about the health of my parents, grandparents, and friends. This virus has made it a very concerning time for everyone, and I want it all to end.” -18-year-old, California
ABOUT DOSOMETHING STRATEGIC
DoSomething Strategic is the social impact consulting arm of DoSomething.org, the largest global organization for young people and social impact. DoSomething Strategic uses data-driven insights from DoSomething’s 5+ million members — ages 13–25 in every area code in the United States and in 131 countries worldwide — to help brands build relationships with and strengthen affinity among young consumers by driving purpose forward.