Last year was a turbulent time for so many. In addition to a raging pandemic, we all witnessed deep social inequities that exist in the U.S. coming into the spotlight; racial, socioeconomic, and beyond. ASA recently did some research into the emotional state of Gen Z from mid 2020 to early 2021, and asked questions to better understand the drivers of their decision-making. We wanted to know to what extent social causes are impacting their decisions, and if so, what social causes they care about. Given the megaphone that is social media and the vocal activism that has emerged from this generation in recent years, it was not a surprise to learn that the teens and young adults of Gen Z feel passionate about social causes, to the extent that their beliefs shape their social lives. But for around half of them, the causes they care about even influence their career choices.
I suppose the elephant in the room is this: are the people on the other end – the educators, professionals, mentors and coaches in their lives – equipped to help Gen Z make the connection between their passion and their life choices? Schools, higher education institutions and workplaces are welcoming members of Gen Z into their mix daily; it’s worth understanding their unique paradigm around social activism so that we can better support them in ways that matter to them. In terms of the specifics:
Nine in 10 Gen Z respondents reported being passionate about a social cause, with younger members of Gen Z being more passionate about many causes. Girls and young women in Gen Z say they are passionate about causes across the board, and similarly, those who view themselves as ambitious report being more connected to causes.
Top causes include Black Lives Matter/Race Relations (63% of 13-17-year-olds, and 55% of 18-25-year-olds), Environment and Climate Change (44% of 13-17-year-olds, and 45% of 18-25-year-olds), Animal Rights (45% of 13-17-year-olds, and 42% of 18-25-year-olds), Bullying/Cyberbullying (49% of 13-17-year-olds, and 39% of 18-25-year-olds, and LGBTQ+ rights (46% of 13-17-year-olds, and 38% of 18-25-year-olds). Other causes respondents care about include Police/Criminal Justice Reform, Gun Control/March for Our Lives, Immigration/Refugee Activism, Income Inequality, #MeToo/#TimesUp, and other general political causes.
In terms of the connection between social impact and careers, nearly 7 in 10 13-17-year-olds and 54% of 18-25-year-olds report that a successful career is one that would allow them to help others, and around a third of both age groups would define a successful career by the ability to help their community. Here’s what a few survey respondents told us:
“Making an impact is greater than making money and if I can have a job that makes an impact, I would be satisfied knowing I am doing something good.” – Female, 15 to 17, Western U.S.
“I think about how we need to do better as a society. It makes me think about Black Lives Matter. It’s a big part of everyday life for everyone now.”- Male, 22 to 25, Midwestern U.S.
“I would rather have a job that makes a clear impact on the world, because money doesn’t buy happiness and if our daily routine can help someone’s life then that makes me happy.” – Female, 15 to 17, Western U.S.
For the people supporting members of Gen Z as they begin or continue in their higher education and/or career path, understanding the specific causes about which they’re passionate will be critical in how you provide guidance. The young people of today and tomorrow are not just influenced by social causes…. they are making major life decisions around them. As we’ve highlighted, that will often translate to choice of college or university, choice of career path, and even choice of workplace. Helping them connect their passion to a path and to opportunity is something ASA is committed to. We hope our partners will join us in doing the same.
How does this snapshot about Gen Z’s deep connection to social causes compare or contrast with your own experience/understanding of Gen Z today? I’d love to hear your thoughts.