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Millennials killed cereal, department stores, and prioritized eating avocado toast over house-buying. Gen Zs are selfie-obsessed snowflakes who don’t understand the value of hard work. 

These are just some of the negative stereotypes that have surfaced over the years for both generations. 

Rather than getting tied up with misconceptions, it’s crucial to be led by relevant, data-driven insight into audiences. Gen Z will soon become the largest cohort of consumers, so it’s never been more important for brands and marketers to get a true understanding of them. 

So what else makes the group stand out that you need to know?

Riding the anxiety wave 

The pandemic was arguably the biggest test of resilience. 

Disruption to education, job losses, financial uncertainty, and social isolation have all weighed heavily on Gen Z’s shoulders. Dubbed the “sacrificed generation” by the Guardian in 2021, the toll of the pandemic on young people’s mental wellness is undeniable – something that sets them apart from other generations. 

In the US, the number of Gen Z who say they experience stress regularly/often has increased by 26% since Q2 2020, with feelings of anxiety also creeping up by 14%. 

Chart showing percentage of Gen Z who say the suffer from stress or anxiety

Globally, out of a list of 17 attitudes, Gen Z stand out the most for saying they’re prone to anxiety. This is ahead of other generations, and comes to light even more on a country level. In the US, 45% of Gen Z say they’re prone to anxiety compared to 25% of baby boomers. 

This group grew up with technology at their fingertips – a double-edged sword in a way. Their anxiety can often be exacerbated by social media, with doomscrolling during the pandemic likely playing a part in this. It’s no wonder then that Gen Z are more likely than the average consumer to worry they spend too much time on social media or on their phone, and feel using social media causes them anxiety. 

Yet, even at a time when “it’s okay to not be okay”, just 1 in 3 globally feel comfortable talking about their mental health. 

In many markets, Gen X and baby boomers are strides ahead of Gen Z for feeling comfortable speaking up about how they feel. 

So even though Gen Z struggle the most with anxiety, they have a harder time speaking up. There’s a need to break down mental health stigmas and encourage this vulnerable young group to get the support they need. 

Not only are Gen Z a key audience for brands within the anxiety economy, their worries around talking about their wellbeing presents an opportunity for new campaigns. 

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) recently used this type of messaging in a Wordle layout to highlight keywords related to asking for help when it’s needed – putting the spotlight on mental health while tapping into Gen Z’s interest in gaming at the same time.

New apps like Spoof, aimed largely at Gen Z, are also popping up. The app recently secured pre-seed investment and aims to produce music to help users achieve a desired mental state, which they claim has the same impact as therapeutic practices. With an increasing pool of people needing support, we’ll see this space fill up with more products and services that help mental wellness. 

A hustle mentality underpins this group

Globally, the most distinctive value for this young group is being successful (62% say this). This could partly be down to life stage, with many yet to enter the workforce. Either way, it doesn’t take away from the fact this group is laser-focused on securing a better future for themselves, likely fueled even more by the hardships they faced during the pandemic. 

Chart showing percentage of Gen Z vs other generations who say certain traits are important to them

The job market may be reigniting, but that doesn’t mean Gen Z are having an easy time joining the workforce. In the US, research found a rise in underemployment, with graduates accepting lower-paying work as they struggle to establish themselves. 

On a more positive note, Gen Z are ahead of other generations in agreeing that challenging themselves and learning new skills are important to them, so they’ve got the right attitude in place to get on their feet. 

And with nearly 4 in 10 Gen Z now in full, part-time, or freelance roles, they’re starting to make their mark on the working world. They don’t shy away from side-hustles either. Their drive for money and success has led to just over half of Gen Z in the US to take on some form of gig economy work in the last year – more than other generations. This also helps to explain their affinity toward investing. The number of those investing in cryptocurrency in the US increased by a whopping 200% since Q2 2020. 

Investing apps and fintech brands are already nurturing this interest by introducing new features that appeal to Gen Z’s financial side; Coinbase partnered with Mastercard to smooth the process of buying and selling NFTs, while Moneybox introduced a Lifetime ISA for those planning to buy their first home. 

Gen Z’s concern for the planet is clear, but their actions aren’t perfect

The terms “Gen Z” and “climate change activism” often go hand-in-hand. Coined “Generation Greta” a few years back, this generation have often been painted as one of the most vocal groups about the climate crisis. And this is true to a degree. 

In the US, climate change is their biggest concern out of a list of 21 worries – something that’s overtaken concern about infectious diseases. 

Globally, a quarter of this generation also feel the environment will get worse in the next 6 months, up from 18% in Q2 2020 – when Covid caused major disruption to economic life, and the environment temporarily benefited.

Their concern about climate change is likely to affect how they shop, where they want to work, and what they do. It’s also led many to be attracted to careers that can help them be part of the solution

Chart showing the key topics that Gen Z are most concerned about

With all that said, their environmental actions aren’t exactly perfect. 

US Gen Z are much less likely than older generations to say they always try to recycle, for example, but are more likely to choose home-made alternatives to products, as well as avoid buying products that don’t have recyclable packaging. 

We discovered in our January Zeitgeist research that Gen Z are more likely to take small, eco-conscious steps in other ways. They’re more inclined to volunteer or donate money, walk or cycle instead of drive, and eat plant-based foods than older generations. They’re also the most confident in their ability to personally have a moderate or major impact on climate change (65% say this). 

Part of this action will likely involve being vocal about governments and brands needing to do more. Gen Z in the US place much more responsibility on governments to step up and take action than other generations, suggesting that for them real change requires top-down action. Sustainability is more political than it is personal for Gen Z. 

The same goes for brands too. This group demands transparency about production and supply chains, so being upfront and clear is an absolute must-have. They’ll likely react better to campaigns that are focused around transparency in the products they buy, such as brands providing end-of-life product support like information on where to recycle, resell, or repair items. 

They’re after a more genuine and healthier online experience

With Gen Z being 25% more likely than everyone else to say social media causes them anxiety, it’s little wonder why many are seeking a more honest, open, and carefree online environment. 

In our Connecting the dots 2022 report, we covered how Gen Z are becoming tired of picture-perfect, filtered posts and content on social media. They were ahead of other groups for saying there’s too much pressure to be perfect on social media and that people should show more of their real selves online. The seemingly endless need for perfection has become unrealistic and unrelatable. 

In the US, Gen Z’s interest in celebrity news and influencers dropped by 26% and 15% respectively since Q2 2020. 

At the same time, the portion of US Gen Z who say they want their lifestyles to impress others or who say they’re influenced by what’s cool or trendy have also declined. 

Chart showing percentage of Gen Z who are influenced on social and what by

The pandemic has shifted the tone of online content. And this has all given way to the rise of the “genuinfluencer” – someone who shares advice and unbiased information. Namely, their main aim isn’t to sell a new product or collection.

While influencers have traditionally been used to promote the latest fashion or cosmetics products, they’re increasingly being used by brands, governments, and other large institutions to share important information and gain trust. A good example of this is Olivia Rodrigo, singer and Gen Z icon, who was invited to the White House last July to encourage her millions of followers to get vaccinated

For brands looking to reach Gen Z, it’s absolutely essential to carefully consider the content they post and the type of influencer relationships they have. For a generation that’s still reeling from the fallout of the pandemic, brands should do what they can to create a healthier online space. 

Covid has really put into perspective how many aspects of our lives have changed, and for many young people its effects will linger on for some time to come. Gen Z are a must-reach audience for many brands, but failing to take into account the impact the pandemic has had on their lives and mentality is a misstep.

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Written by

Katie is a Senior Trends Manager at GWI. She’s an avid baker and Harry Potter fanatic, who loves to binge-watch all the latest shows. When she’s not busy whipping up a cheesecake or watching murder-mysteries, you’ll find her exploring what makes consumers tick.

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