How Gen Z Differs From Previous Generations

A generation who grew up more online than outdoors tracks a notable difference in worldview and risk-taking, even the healthy kind.

By Published on November 30, 2023

Gen Z, the generation born between 1997 and 2010, has a distinct reputation different from baby boomers, Gen X, and millennials. Exactly what the differences are and why they exist is a growing area of interest in research. For example, a new report from the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life analyzes data collected from a survey of baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z about their experiences during adolescence. One finding is that Gen Z — or Zoomers — are less likely to hold a part-time job, attend religious services, have a romantic relationship, and use drugs. They also spend more time online, are more likely to identify as LGBTQ, and report being more lonely than previous generations.

A Defining Difference for Gen Z

One factor behind these differences—and a defining difference itself between Gen Z and the adolescent experiences of previous generations — is the role and use of technology. Gen Z has never known a world without social media and smartphones. Seven out of 10 Zoomers report using social media daily (a number that still seems suspiciously low), and 56% of Gen Z adults report playing video games in the past week.

Human beings, no matter the generation to which they belong, are embodied beings. None of us are our avatars, our online personas, or our social media feeds.

Though increased social media and video game use does not necessarily mean that less time is spent with friends, it typically does. So, it is unsurprising that Gen Z, as a whole, reports greater loneliness and less time spent with friends during their teen years than older generations.

An Embrace of the LGBTQ Ideology

Gen Z is also more progressive in political views and more likely to identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, or trans than previous generations. Today, almost one in four Zoomer adults identifies as LGBTQ, which is about five times more than baby boomers. Additionally, about four in 10 identify as politically liberal, while only 26% identify as politically conservative. Given that virtually every social media platform champions LGBTQ images, behavior, and ideology and that LGBTQ ideology has become a defining creed of left-leaning politics, this is not surprising. Individuals who identify as LGBTQ are celebrated, especially online, whereas those who dissent from the reigning sexual orthodoxies are easily reported and often, quickly de-platformed. Having grown up more online than outside, Zoomers’ politics, values, and loyalties have been shaped by the narratives preached in their social media worlds.

A Transformed Adolescent Experience

At the same time, Gen Z avoids some of the risk-taking and moral vices of older groups. Perhaps because they spend so much more time online, only 32% of adult Zoomers reported drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or smoking weed as a teenager, and only 56% reported having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Also, only 58% reported having a part-time job, the lowest number of the four generations surveyed. While less substance abuse is certainly better, when considered along with fewer part-time jobs and romantic relationships, this is likely not due to better morals but to an overall aversion to even healthy risk-taking.

A Lesson to Learn: Physical Presence and Family Life Deeply Matter

Finally, though Zoomers are the least likely to attend religious services, the common thread to church attendance across all generations continues to be family life. For all generations, the majority (68%) of those who grew up in a two-parent household, participated in religious life during adolescence, whereas those growing up in a single-parent household were less likely to attend religious services (53%). Among older generations, less troublemaking and risk-taking often coincided with more participation in religious services, but that statistical link is broken when it comes to Zoomers. Whereas 71% of baby boomers attended religious services during their teens, only 52% of Gen Z attended religious services during theirs.

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Gen Z’s generational differences indicate that a shared way of life consisting of both physical presence and family life deeply matters. Unless these things are recovered, decreased religious observance and increased loneliness will only continue. Human beings, no matter the generation to which they belong, are embodied beings. None of us are our avatars, our online personas, or our social media feeds. When our lives are stripped of tangible connections with our neighbors, our neighborhoods, and our families, we lose sight of many things that matter.

 

John Stonestreet serves as president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He’s a sought-after author and speaker on areas of faith and culture, theology, worldview, education and apologetics.

Jared Eckert is a Breakpoint Contributor at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. A former researcher at the Heritage Foundation, he has focused his work on social policy and cultural analysis with a special interest in the intersection of gender and tech.

Originally published on Breakpoint.org. Republished with permission of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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