by Kevin Schofield
This weekend’s read is a new report from Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation that discusses Generation Z’s perspective on its own well-being and future prospects. “Generation Z” refers to those born between 1997 and 2011 — currently age 12 to 26. Gallup surveyed over 3,000 members of that generation living in the United States to hear their self-reported assessments of their lives, their future, what is important to them, and how well they feel the U.S. education system is preparing them for the future.
The report begins by looking at how many are “thriving”: those who rate highly both their life today and how they expect their lives will be five years from now. By that measure, only 47% of Gen Z are thriving, which is lower than every other living generation today except for the oldest one, the so-called “silent generation” over age 70.
It turns out that graduating from college makes a big difference: College grads had a much higher rate of thriving compared with those with a high school diploma or who were currently enrolled in some form of post-secondary education.
Generation Z also has seen a dramatic drop in its self-assessment of mental health compared with other generations. According to the report, today only 15% of 18-to-26-year-olds rate their mental health as “excellent,” compared with 55% of 18-to-26-year-olds in 2004. The report suggests that in part this might be due to an overall decline in mental health across all ages over the past 10 years, since data shows that millennials and Generation X also assess their mental health as lower than 10 years ago.
There seems to be a gender-identity-related component of this as well: Generation Z women report more frequently feeling negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, stress, and loneliness.
At the same time, Gen Z is optimistic about its future: 82% believe they will achieve their life goals, and 76% believe they have “a great future” ahead. Not surprisingly, the higher the individual rates their mental health, the more optimistic they are. Black people in Generation Z are even more optimistic than their peers of other races and ethnicities, and more entrepreneurial: 40% want to start a business, compared with 30% of Generation Z overall.
The report contains a lot of discussion on how well Gen Z feels it is prepared for the future, and how well U.S. schools are preparing it for that future. Gallup found that those who are more engaged at school also have more positive life outlooks, but it’s unclear in which direction the cause-and-effect relationship runs: Does a more positive life outlook motivate you to be more engaged at school, or does greater school engagement make you more optimistic (or both)?
Money is top of mind for Generation Z: Making enough to live comfortably ranks highest (by a large margin) among their hopes and aspirations — 69% ranked it among their top three priorities. At the same time, 64% also said they face a lack of financial resources as a barrier to achieving their goals.
There is much more detail in the report, including a look at how they view their experiences in school and a discussion of how they view the threat of gun violence.
Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and publishes Seattle Paper Trail. Previously he worked for Microsoft, published Seattle City Council Insight, co-hosted the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast, and raised two daughters as a single dad. He serves on the Board of Directors of Woodland Park Zoo, where he also volunteers.
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