Around the globe, disruption is driving economic growth, expansion, and opportunity. But millennials and Generation Z are feeling increasingly unsettled and pessimistic about their careers, their lives in general, and the world around them. They appear to be struggling to find their safe havens, their beacons of trust. As a result, these younger generations are instigating their own brand of disruption, both inadvertently and intentionally.
Among the key findings:
- Economic and social/political optimism is at record lows. Respondents express a strong lack of faith in traditional societal institutions, including mass media, and are pessimistic about social progress.
- Millennials and Gen Z are disillusioned. They’re not particularly satisfied with their lives, their financial situations, their jobs, government and business leaders, social media, or the way their data is used.
- Millennials value experiences. They aspire to travel and help their communities more than starting families or their own businesses.
- Millennials are skeptical of business’s motives. Respondents do not think highly of leaders’ impact on society, their commitment to improving the world, or their trustworthiness.
- They let their wallets do the talking (and walking). Millennials and Gen Z, in general, will patronize and support companies that align with their values; many say they will not hesitate to lessen or end a relationship when they disagree with a company’s business practices, values, or political leanings.
Why are these young generations filled with distrust instead of optimism? Perhaps it’s because they’re perpetually caught in the crossfire of societal, political, and economic commotion.
Chief among the influencing factors is likely the economic recession of the late 2000s. At one end of the spectrum are older millennials who were entering the job market as the crisis unfolded. At the other end are Gen Zs, many of whom have spent half their lives in a post-crash world.
In the United States, millennials who entered the labor market around the recession, or during the years of slow growth that followed, experienced less economic growth in their first decade of work than any other generation.1 They have lower real incomes and fewer assets than previous generations at comparable ages, as well as higher levels of debt.2 The cumulative effect has altered a wide variety of financial decisions.
The complete impact goes deeper than economics. Unlike the postwar 1950s—which were characterized by international cooperation, a baby boom, and economic expansion that benefited most—the past decade has been marked by a steep rise in economic inequality, a reduction in societal safety nets, insular and dysfunctional governments, increased tribalism fueled by social media, radical changes in the contract between employers and employees, Industry 4.0 technologies that are redefining the workplace, and personal technologies that make people both more connected and more isolated.
The impact of myriad, radical changes to our daily lives has hit younger generations hard—economically, socially, and perhaps psychologically. Through this survey, this “generation disrupted” is telling us that continuous change and upheaval have created a population that is different at its core. But young people are also providing valuable clues about how society’s institutions can respond to those differences in mutually beneficial ways that could increase trust, generate positive societal impact, and meet their high expectations.
Priorities driven by anxieties
Each year, we ask millennials about global societal challenges and their personal concerns to see how they’re trending. This year, we’re seeing a palpable deterioration of optimism and a wide variety of both macroeconomic and day-to-day anxieties weighing on their minds.