For basically a decade now you haven't been able to spend five minutes online without coming across some sort of post or opinion piece on the characteristics (and/or failings) of so-called Gen Y, aka the millennials. Those roughly aged between 20-35 have been dissected and discussed ad nauseum.
But what about their little brothers and sisters?
Born between 1995-2015, the first of this next cohort, sometimes dubbed Gen Z, are now becoming adults. Growing up fully wired and in the shadow of 9/11, what sort of mindset has the next generation to hit workplaces developed? If a new, in-depth investigation by the UK's Guardian newspaper is to be believed, the answer is a pretty dark one.
Here are some of the most startling findings from the paper's polling and interviews with young people as reported by economist and author Noreena Hertz.
- They're pessimistic about their prospects: by a huge majority they believe their lives will be more difficult than those of their parents. 79 percent worry about getting a job while 72 percent worry about debt.
- They're hugely anxious: and why not given the constant stream of horrors on the news? 70 percent are worried about terrorism. Symptoms of depression and anxiety are way up among this generation. So are reports of self-harm.
- They're deeply distrustful of the government: only one-in-ten trusts the government to do the right thing. The number among millennials is a slightly rosier 20 percent. It will come as no shock that they do love Bernie Sanders, however.
- Their opinions of business are even worse: a pathetic six percent of Gen Z trust corporations to do the right thing. The number for adults in general is 60 percent. "When asked what comes to mind when they think of global corporations, they typically volunteer words such as exploitative, selfish, arrogant, greedy, cheating and untrustworthy," reports the Guardian.
- They think the system is rigged: "This generation does not believe that life is a meritocracy. In fact, not one teenager surveyed agrees with the statement that 'society is fair and everyone has an equal chance'. Instead, they believe that it's the color of their skin, their sex, their parents' economic status and their social standing that will determine their future. Depressingly, the data bears this out," the Guardian notes.
- They're not as selfish as sometimes feared: 92 percent believe that helping others in need is important. 70 percent say inequality worries them greatly.
How can you sum all this up? Perhaps one of the most telling details in Hertz's article is the name she chooses for this generation. Eschewing the consensus pick, Gen Z, she goes with Gen K. Where does the 'K' come from? "Katniss Everdeen, the determined heroine of the Hunger Games. Like Katniss, they feel the world they inhabit is one of perpetual struggle--dystopian, unequal and harsh," she writes.
For those looking for actionable insight rather than straight up gloom, the article goes on to talk about how this generation values authenticity and connection, and also delves into their identity as makers. It's well worth checking out in full for basically anyone curious about what's coming down the pike for employers, marketers, and citizens in general.
Of course, it should be noted that this is all coming from a British paper. Could American teens and very young adults be more optimistic than their counterparts in the UK? Possibly, but other research suggests that's pretty unlikely. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has collected vast quantities of data on the mental health of young people. The verdict is pretty grim. Her work "indicates a lot of suffering," Twenge told Quartz, recently.
What's gone wrong to make young people so unhappy and anxious? And what needs to be done about it?