Generations are often shaped by major events, ranging from the Silent Generation’s experience during the Great Depression to Millennials and 9/11. And the current global pandemic is no different.
While the pandemic is impacting generations across the board, it stands to have the biggest long-term effect on Generation Z, or those born between 1997 and 2010 (though the exact age range may vary slightly, depending on who you ask).
Education and career goals
One of the biggest and most immediate impacts felt by Gen Z during the pandemic is the effect on their education. The oldest members are in college or recently graduated, while the younger cohorts are in middle school or late elementary. Having to shift to at-home schooling has raised concerns about the long-term impact on education, especially for younger children, who are having a harder time adapting and less able to stick to stricter regimens. And with the uncertainty about the return to in-person schooling in the fall, the long-term concerns are growing.
Educational experts point to disparities between the quality of online learning between white students and black and Hispanic students and have voiced concerns that the lack of in-person instruction could lead to an increased drop-out rate, especially for the latter. However, according to College Finance, 65% of Gen Z-ers polled in the U.S. are considering going back to school or staying in school longer due to the economic impact of COVID-19, hoping to wait out an unstable job market.
The pandemic is also making this generation reconsider their career goals. College Finance reports 66% of Gen Z feel their planned career paths are less stable than before the pandemic—30.6% plan to change their career path, while 20.7% are still on the fence. Stability and job opportunities are likely to outweigh passion for their fields.
Consumption and communication
Gen Z was already digitally-dependent before the pandemic, but with increased time spent at home, their digital consumption has risen—whether it be for communication or entertainment purposes.
According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), 62% have increased their time spent on social media, 70% have increased their time spent on video streaming and 59% have increased their time spent gaming. BCG also notes that these increases are likely to continue after lockdown, though perhaps not quite as high as the present once restrictions are lifted.
Consumption via linear TV (i.e. cable and satellite) was already seeing a decrease amongst Gen Z before the pandemic, and that trend is growing. BCG reports a 60% increase in streaming content and a 96% increase on mobile and social platforms (particularly Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) during quarantine. There has been an increase in virtual courses (i.e. fitness classes and skills-based lessons like cooking and languages), and Gen Z is expected to carry these habits beyond lockdown. Many Gen Z-ers have also turned to stress-relieving mobile games and meditation apps during quarantine, and the positive effects felt by these habits will lead to continued use after the pandemic.
There were already concerns about Gen Z’s face-to-face communication skills before quarantine, but with decreased in-person interactions, there are growing fears that their social abilities will be further impacted long-term. On the flipside, interactions and time spent with immediate family has increased, and many are returning to older habits, like eating meals together and doing activities that they weren’t partaking in pre-COVID—and many families are reporting intentions to continue these interactions post-lockdown.
The way Gen Z is spending their money has shifted dramatically during quarantine. BCG reports increased spending on “products geared towards at-home consumption, essentials, and health and wellness” and a decrease on more discretionary products like alcohol and high-ticket items like electronics and cars—and these habits are expected to stick beyond the pandemic. There has been an increased willingness to try new products during lockdown, and this is also expected to hold steady in the long run. (According to BCG, 69% of younger consumers have purchased a new product for the first time during COVID-19, compared to 43% for older generations.)
In addition to changing what they buy, Gen Z is changing where they purchase from. Due to necessity during the pandemic, online retailers have seen a stark increase in popularity—and Gen Z is the most likely generation to continue making purchases online post-COVID, mainly due to ease and convenience. Brick-and-mortar stores will also likely see a decrease in younger customers post-quarantine due to concerns about an impending recession. And with the uncertainty surrounding travel and tourism, ride- and home-sharing apps are likely to see continued decreases for some time.
Economic and world views
There have been comparisons made between Gen Z and the Silent Generation, the latter of which went through the Great Depression. Some of the notable similarities: rationing/conserving resources and a “waste-not, want-not” mentality, economic uncertainty and an increased awareness of the world around them. The Silent Generation also had a mistrust in government, and that is appearing to hold true for Gen Z as well.
Even before the pandemic, Gen Z-ers were already making their views known, using social media in particular to have their voices heard. And their focus on activism is only strengthening due to the current situation. Gen Z is also spending increased time at home with their parents, and in turn are more exposed to their political views. Issues that are of particular importance to Gen Z than before the pandemic are social safety, access to health care and economics.
Only time will tell how current events will shape this young generation. Despite the unknowns, one thing is certain: the impact of the pandemic will change how marketers communicate with Gen Z.
To continue the conversation and learn more about communicating with Generation Z, reach out to Lynn Kaniper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609.466.9187 ext. 117.