- The coronavirus pandemic is affecting four different cohorts of Gen Z in various ways, a generational researcher told Business Insider.
- Those in middle school and early high school are lacking a school environment in which they can foster positive relationships during a crucial time of identity development.
- Senior high school students and college students are both worried about what their futures will look like after graduation.
- The oldest Gen Z in the workforce are shouldering the economic fallout, hit with job loss.
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The coronavirus pandemic is upending the lives of Gen Z during their most transformative years.
The generation turns ages 8 to 23 in 2020. As Pew explains, adolescence and young adulthood are when individuals typically become more aware of the world and shape their identities and beliefs. Coming of age during a world crisis will no doubt leave a trace on the generation’s future.
But the experience Gen Z is having right now depends on what life stage they’re in, according to Jason Dorsey, president of Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) and author of the upcoming book “Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business.” Dorsey and the CGK team are currently researching the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Gen Z, which involves focus groups and interviews.
As a whole, he told Business Insider, it’s likely Gen Z will become even more financially risk-averse than they already are and that the pandemic will change how they view work and learning. But “there’s a big difference between the seven-year-old and the 21-year-old,” he said.
There are four different cohorts of Gen Z experiencing the pandemic in different ways, according to Dorsey.
Middle schoolers and early high schoolers are lacking social connection during a critical time
Everyone is craving social connection, but those in middle school and the beginning years of high school are having an especially hard time handling the lack of it.
They’re already living at home with their parents, Dorsey said, adding that this cohort has told him they now have to see their parents all the time during quarantine life. They’ve also said that they miss school and their friends, he added.
The combination isn’t great for an age group going through an important time of physical, emotional, and social change. Pre-teen and early teen years mark a time of growing independence, identity development, and self-esteem issues, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Positive friendships can offer support and a sense of belonging during this time, laying the foundation for successful adult relationships. Research shows that young adults who felt more connected at home and school as teens are less likely to experience mental health problems and risks.
High school seniors are worried about what will happen next
Older high school students “see a lot of confusion to the future,” particularly seniors, Dorsey said.
Their graduations and proms have been canceled, he said, and this is their last year to drive academic and sports achievements. But seniors aren’t just disappointed they’re missing out on their last year of high school, he added: They’re also unsure what will happen after graduation.
The majority of teenagers said they were concerned about how COVID-19 will affect their life after high school, according to a survey by Junior Achievement and Citizens Bank.
And another survey by Cirkled in, a data analytics recruitment platform for colleges, found that 22% of high school students were rethinking their plans for college and 25% think COVID-19 will impact their college decision.
College students are seeing internship and job opportunities diminish
College students are now having a different college experience.
Like high school seniors, they’re also facing uncertainty, but it’s taking shape in different forms, according to Dorsey. Some, he said, are unsure if their classmates whose parents were laid off will return to school, because they may no longer be able to afford tuition. Meanwhile, international students are unsure if they’ll be able to return to school and if they can get a refund. There’s also the fact that some on-campus requirements like science labs can’t be [replicated] at home, he said.
They’re also concerned with how the pandemic will affect their future. Some college students have been left with loose ends after their internship and job opportunities vanished during the pandemic, Business Insider’s Connor Perrett reported.
Damaria Joyner, a 22-year-old graduating this spring in a virtual commencement ceremony, told Perrett she had set up a post-grad internship with a trial court. She said she planned to use it as a way to get her foot in the door to courtroom life for a potential career as a lawyer. “I have no idea what is going to happen,” she said. “That’s the fear I feel like a lot of graduates are facing.”
Gen Z in the workforce is taking the economic brunt
The very oldest of Gen Z have already entered the workforce. They’re disproportionately employed in service jobs such as retail and hospitality — and many have been furloughed or laid off, Dorsey said. And many Gen Zers aren’t eligible for stimulus checks if they were claimed as a dependent on someone else’s taxes. Those working part-time or in an internship would fit that bill.
“They’ve already been trying to become self-reliant and to build a foundation into adulthood and that’s completely gone,” he said. “They don’t have finances to fall back on and they can’t count on parents. They’re really in desperate straits because they lost their job or income and don’t have backstops to help them right now. They also don’t have a retirement account to pull money out of.”
Recent college graduates who had been taking time to figure out their next steps are also feeling the effects. Sarah Nehemiah, who was taking a gap year in New York City as she contemplated applying to law school, told Business Insider’s Dominic-Madori Davis the economic downturn her generation is facing is “unfathomable” and that its impact will be “devastating” on her.
As a result, Nehemiah says it is certain that she will enter law school for “job security down the road.”