By Giolanta Ntamadaki
Comprising people born roughly from the mid-90s to the early 2010s, Generation Z is distinguished by a number of distinctive characteristics that set it apart from the generations that came before it, most notably including a fluid identity, progressive attitudes and the use of technology in all aspects of their lives. Moreover, this is a generation that grew up and came of age in an environment of permanent crises. From the global financial crisis and climate change to the Covid-19 pandemic, Generation Z is used to living in a world of instability and destabilization, with the dream of prosperity and security seeming almost elusive. But, before considering any change or impact it may bring about in such an environment, it is necessary to understand its characteristics and deconstruct the stereotypes attributed to it.
The identity of Generation Z
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in the USA in 2018, Generation Z is the most tolerant and the most open generation—compared to previous generations—when it comes to gender identity issues. In fact, about 60% of American Gen Zers state that they should be given the opportunity to self-identify with pronouns other than “he/she,” since the male-female dichotomy no longer represents many of them. From the above it follows that social justice, inclusion and equality are core values for young people and should permeate all aspects of their lives, from school and the workplace to the community in which they live, interact with their fellow citizens and have fun. Apart from the need to choose their own identity based on the roles they take on each time, Gen Zers are also characterized by high levels of self-expression. From their entrepreneurial spirit and need to innovate, to their creative expression on social media, Generation Z is the generation that says its digital identity is the most authentic, as it allows them to express themselves and create content according to their interests and personality.
Figure 1: A global survey conducted by Deloitte in 2023 that illustrates the factors that shape the sense of identity of Millennials and Gen Zers.
Young people and social media
Generation Z is the first generation that doesn’t remember the pre-internet era. Being the first digital natives, they are used to communicating and interacting through online platforms. According to a global survey by McKinsey in 2022, Generation Z, more than any other generation, will spend more than 2 hours a day on social media. However, the impact of these media evokes mixed feelings among Gen Zers and Millennials. According to a global survey conducted by Deloitte in 2023, approximately half of them state that social media has a positive effect on their mental health, while more than 4 in 10 say they feel lonely or inadequate because of the constant comparison with others, or even resent the social pressure to have a frequent online presence. Furthermore, most Gen Zers state that the influence of social media is mostly positive in terms of socialization, emotional support and self-expression, while it is less positive in terms of self-esteem and self-confidence, body image and fear of being left behind when offline, a phenomenon known as FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out (McKinsey, 2022).
Figure 2: A survey by the Pew Research Center in the US (2021) revealing the different ways in which all generations (Boomer and older, Gen X, Millennial, Gen Z) react to climate change-related content on social media.
The politicization of young people
Their elders often accuse them of an “apolitical” attitude towards public affairs, while they themselves declare that they are not interested in politics per se. This is because most Gen Zers have identified politics with political parties, which they have discredited, as they do not consider them capable of bringing about positive change in their lives. In a climate of fluidity and uncertainty, they know that individual action and initiative is a key factor for change. However, the individual meets the collective in issues related to the environment and climate change, which are at the top of the political agenda of young people and are able to offer a sense of collectivity in an era plagued by individualism, as demonstrated by Deloitte’s survey.
Regarding the factors of politicization for Gen Zers, Antonis Galanopoulos, PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Sciences of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, underlines that they have changed compared to the past. While the family and the urban or rural environment in which they have grown up influences their political positions to a large extent, the shaping of young people’s political identity has shifted to the field of digital activism that takes place on social media. In this online environment, which offers anonymity and security, they come into contact with people with shared values and ideals, interact and ultimately feel accepted as members of a community. Social networking platforms are their main source of information, but also the means of reproducing socio-political content. However, as Antonis Galanopoulos mentions, Gen Zers are much more cautious than millennials when it comes to taking a political stance online, as they are aware of the risks involved in such an exposure. This behavior raises the question of whether their activity constitutes real political action. Another paradox worth mentioning is that although social media is their main source of information, this does not mean that they trust it completely or that they themselves have not been victims of fake news in the past (Eteron Research, 2022
Young people, education and work
Generation Z is the most educated generation, which is why their workplace demands are higher. Their priorities not only include a satisfactory salary in order to cope with the difficult economic conditions of the times, but also opportunities for personal and professional development, as well as a sense of contribution and a sense of making a positive difference in the workplace. More than previous generations, they seek a balance between personal and professional life, but this is not always possible, since part-time work, complementary to their main job, is particularly prevalent. Side hustles, as they are widely known, provide a source of extra income while helping to develop the skills of employees. Quiet quitting, i.e. silently giving up work, putting in minimal effort and feeling alienated from their job, are also popular tactics that highlight young people’s stress and anxiety levels, which can even lead to burnout. Specifically, according to the Deloitte survey, nearly half of Gen Zers (46%) feel stressed at work most of the time, with women, people from the LGBTQ+ community, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities experiencing even higher levels of stress (52-62%). According to the same survey, some of the main concerns of young people are the cost of living and unemployment (35% and 22% respectively), climate change (21%), the mental health of their entire generation (19%) and finally crime and personal safety (17%). Another important finding by the American Psychological Association, is that Generation Z is more likely to recognize and report mental health problems, as well as seek help to deal with them, since they are no longer considered taboo issues as they were in the past. Let’s not forget that this generation has experienced several traumatic events, such as the September 11 attacks, mass shootings in American schools, high levels of unemployment, the pandemic, and others, which have left an indelible impact on their psyche.
Figure 3: A global OECD survey (2023) showing the unemployment rates of young people aged 15 to 24 by gender (men, women).
Generation Z and consumerism
The affluent society and unlimited access to consumer goods is a fact of life, yet Generation Z members seem to be quite conscious about their choices. Specifically, 6 out of 10 Gen Zers express a willingness to pay more money in order to access sustainable products and services (Deloitte, 2023). This means that issues such as employee working conditions, company ethics and culture, as well as sustainable and environmentally friendly practices are high on the agenda of young consumers.
Figure 4: An IPCC report (2023) illustrating how current and future generations will be affected by climate change, and in particular by global warming, unless immediate action is taken and implemented to protect the climate and the environment.
In conclusion, it is important to clarify that the above findings relate to Generation Z members who have grown up and live in the Western world. Obviously, conditions are very different in developing regions of the world, where none of the above privileges are taken for granted. After all, any attempt to attribute a single identity to such a diverse generation is doomed to fail. If we limit ourselves to the young people of the West, we can safely say that they possess tools that previous generations could not even imagine. The unlimited possibilities of the Internet and artificial intelligence, the high standard of living and education, and the freedom to choose their own identity and to change it whenever they wish are assets that cannot easily be taken away from them. However, the question that arises is whether they will be able to use these resources to their advantage in the current adverse conditions. Will the constant crises be an opportunity for change and innovation or will they further devastate a generation that has not learned to live without them?
Bethune, S., 2019, “Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns”, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/gen-z
Fry, R., Parker, K., 2018, “Early Benchmarks Show ‘Post-Millennials’ on Track to Be Most Diverse, Best-Educated Generation Yet”, Pew Research Centre, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/11/15/early-benchmarks-show-post-millennials-on-track-to-be-most-diverse-best-educated-generation-yet/
Parker, K., Igielnik, R., 2020, “On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far”, Pew Research Centre, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/05/14/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far-2/
Deloitte, 2023, “Gen Z and Millennial Survey”,
Eteron, 2021, “Gen Z Voice ON”, https://eteron.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ETERON-Research-GEN-Z-Digital-28-3-2022-1.pdf
McKinsey Health Institute, 2023, “Gen Z mental health: The impact of tech and social media”, https://www.mckinsey.com/mhi/our-insights/gen-z-mental-health-the-impact-of-tech-and-social-media