Generation Z

Generation Z (or Gen Z for short), colloquially also known as zoomers,[1][2] is the demographic cohort succeeding Millennials and preceding Generation Alpha. Researchers and popular media use the mid-to-late 1990s as starting birth years and the early 2010s as ending birth years.[3] Most members of Generation Z are children of Generation X.

As the first social generation to have grown up with access to the Internet and portable digital technology from a young age, members of Generation Z have been dubbed "digital natives",[4][5] even though they are not necessarily digitally literate.[6] Moreover, the negative effects of screen time are most pronounced on adolescents compared to younger children.[7] Compared to previous generations, members of Generation Z in some developed nations tend to be well-behaved, abstemious, and risk-averse.[8] They tend to live more slowly than their predecessors when they were their age,[9][10] have lower rates of teenage pregnancies, and consume alcohol less often,[11][12] but not necessarily other psychoactive drugs.[13][14] Generation Z teenagers are more concerned than older generations with academic performance and job prospects,[8][9] and are better at delaying gratification than their counterparts from the 1960s, despite concerns to the contrary.[15] Sexting among adolescents has grown in prevalence though the consequences of this remain poorly understood.[16] Meanwhile, youth subcultures have been quieter, though have not necessarily disappeared.[17][18]

Globally, there is evidence that the average age of pubertal onset among girls has decreased considerably compared to the 20th century,[19][20] with implications for their welfare and their future.[19][21][22][23] In addition, adolescents and young adults in Generation Z have higher rates of allergies,[24][25] higher awareness and diagnoses of mental health problems,[8][11][26][27] and are more likely to be sleep-deprived.[5][28][29] In many countries, Gen Z youth is more likely to have diagnosed intellectual disabilities and psychiatric disorders than older generations.[30][31]

Around the world, members of Generation Z are spending more time on electronic devices and less time reading books than before,[32][33][34] with implications for their attention span,[35][36] their vocabulary[37][38] and thus their school grades,[39] as well as their future in the modern economy.[32] At the same time, reading and writing fan fiction is of vogue worldwide, especially among teenage girls and young women.[40][41] In Asia, educators in the 2000s and 2010s typically sought out and nourished top students whereas in Western Europe and the United States, the emphasis was on low-performers.[42] In addition, East Asian and Singaporean students consistently earned the top spots in international standardized tests during the 2010s.[43][44][45][46]

Etymology and nomenclature

While there is no scientific process for deciding when a name has stuck, the momentum is clearly behind Gen Z.

Michael Dimmock, Pew Research Center[47]

The name Generation Z is a reference to the fact that it is the second generation after Generation X, continuing the alphabetical sequence from Generation Y (Millennials).[48][49]

Other proposed names for the generation include iGeneration,[50] Homeland Generation,[51] Net Gen,[50] Digital Natives,[50] Neo-Digital Natives,[52][53] Pluralist Generation,[50] Internet Generation,[54] Centennials,[55] and Post-Millennials.[56] The term Internet Generation is in reference to the fact that the generation is the first to have been born after the mass-adoption of the Internet.[54]

Psychology professor and author Jean Twenge used the term iGeneration (or iGen for short), originally intending to use it as the title of her 2006 book about Millennials, Generation Me, before being overruled by her publisher. At that time, there were iPods and iMac computers but no iPhones or iPads. Twenge later used the term for her 2017 book iGen. The name has also been asserted to have been created by demographer Cheryl Russell in 2009.[50]

In 2014, author Neil Howe coined the term Homeland Generation as a continuation of the Strauss–Howe generational theory with William Strauss. The term Homeland refers to being the first generation to enter childhood after protective surveillance state measures, like the Department of Homeland Security, were put into effect following the September 11 attacks.[51]

The Pew Research Center surveyed the various names for this cohort on Google Trends in 2019 and found that in the U.S., the term Generation Z was overwhelmingly the most popular. The Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries both have official entries for Generation Z.[47]

In Japan, the cohort is described as Neo-Digital Natives, a step beyond the previous cohort described as Digital Natives. Digital Natives primarily communicate by text or voice, while Neo-Digital Natives use video, video-telephony, and movies. This emphasizes the shift from PC to mobile and text to video among the Neo-Digital population.[52][53]

Zoomer is an informal term used to refer to members of Generation Z, often in an ironic, humorous, or mocking tone.[2] It combines the term boomer, referring to baby boomers, with the "Z" from Generation Z. Prior to this, zoomer was used in the 2000s to describe particularly active baby boomers.[1] Zoomer in its current incarnation skyrocketed in popularity in 2018, when it was used in a 4chan internet meme mocking Gen Z adolescents via a Wojak caricature dubbed a "Zoomer".[57][58] Merriam-Webster's records suggest the use of the term zoomer in the sense of Generation Z dates back at least as far as 2016. It was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in October 2021.[1]

Date and age range

Researchers and popular media generally cite the mid-to-late 1990s as the starting birth years and the early 2010s as the ending birth years of Generation Z.

The Oxford Dictionaries describes Generation Z as "the generation reaching adulthood in the second decade of the 21st century."[59] The Oxford Learner's Dictionaries describes Gen Z as "the group of people who were born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s".[60] The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Generation Z as "the generation of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s."[61]

Robert Half International defines Generation Z as "those born 1990 to 1999".[62] Statistics Canada describe Generation Z as spanning from 1993 to 2011.[63][64] Psychologist Jean Twenge has defined Generation Z as the "iGeneration" using a range of those born between 1995 and 2012.[65] Australia's McCrindle Research Centre defines Generation Z as those born between 1995 and 2009.[66] Various media outlets have used 1995 as the starting birth year to describe Gen Z, including United Press International,[67] Financial Times,[68][69] CNBC,[70] and Bloomberg Law.[71] The Center for Generational Kinetics defines Generation Z as those born from 1996 onward.[72]

The Pew Research Center specified 1997 as their starting birth year for Generation Z, choosing this date for "different formative experiences", such as new technological developments and socioeconomic trends, as well as growing up in a world after the September 11 attacks.[47] Pew has not specified an endpoint for Generation Z, but used 2012 as a tentative endpoint for their 2019 report.[47] Major media outlets have cited Pew's definition including The New York Times,[73] The Wall Street Journal,[74] PBS,[75] and The Washington Post.[76] The Brookings Institution defines Generation Z as born between 1997 and 2012.[77] Gallup[78] and Ipsos MORI[79] start Generation Z at 1997. A US Census publication in 2020 described Generation Z as the “young and mobile” population with oldest members of the cohort born after 1996.[80]

Individuals born in the Millennial and Generation Z cusp years have been identified as a "microgeneration" with characteristics of both generations. Names given for these cuspers include the Snapchat Generation,[81] MinionZ,[82] Zillennials,[83][84] and Zennials.[85][86]

Arts and culture

Happiness and personal values

The Economist has described Generation Z as a more educated, well-behaved, stressed and depressed generation in comparison to previous generations.[8] In 2016, the Varkey Foundation and Populus conducted an international study examining the attitudes of over 20,000 people aged 15 to 21 in twenty countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They found that Gen Z youth were happy overall with the states of affairs in their personal lives (59%). The most unhappy young people were from South Korea (29%) and Japan (28%) while the happiest hailed from Indonesia (90%) and Nigeria (78%) (see right). In order to determine the overall 'happiness score' for each country, researchers subtracted the percentage of people who said they were unhappy from that of those who said they were happy. The most important sources of happiness were being physically and mentally healthy (94%), having a good relationship with one's family (92%), and one's friends (91%). In general, respondents who were younger and male tended to be happier. Religious faith came in last at 44%. Nevertheless, religion was a major source of happiness for Gen Z youth from Indonesia (93%), Nigeria (86%), Turkey (71%), China, and Brazil (both 70%). The top reasons for anxiety and stress were money (51%) and school (46%); social media and having access to basic resources (such as food and water) finished the list, both at 10%. Concerns over food and water were most serious in China (19%), India (16%), and Indonesia (16%); young Indians were also more likely than average to report stress due to social media (19%).[87]

According to the aforementioned study by the Varkey Foundation, the most important personal values to these people were helping their families and themselves get ahead in life (both 27%), followed by honesty (26%). Looking beyond their local communities came last at 6%. Familial values were especially strong in South America (34%) while individualism and the entrepreneurial spirit proved popular in Africa (37%). People who influenced youths the most were parents (89%), friends (79%), and teachers (70%). Celebrities (30%) and politicians (17%) came last. In general, young men were more likely to be influenced by athletes and politicians than young women, who preferred books and fictional characters. Celebrity culture was especially influential in China (60%) and Nigeria (71%) and particularly irrelevant in Argentina and Turkey (both 19%). For young people, the most important factors for their current or future careers were the possibility of honing their skills (24%), and income (23%) while the most unimportant factors were fame (3%) and whether or not the organization they worked for made a positive impact on the world (13%). The most important factors for young people when thinking about their futures were their families (47%) and their health (21%); the welfare of the world at large (4%) and their local communities (1%) bottomed the list.[87]

Common culture

Two young women taking a selfie at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, France (2016).

During the 2000s and especially the 2010s, youth subcultures that were as influential as what existed during the late 20th century became scarcer and quieter, at least in real life though not necessarily on the Internet, and more ridden with irony and self-consciousness due to the awareness of incessant peer surveillance.[17][18] In Germany, for instance, youth appears more interested in a more mainstream lifestyle with goals such as finishing school, owning a home in the suburbs, maintaining friendships and family relationships, and stable employment, rather than popular culture, glamor, or consumerism.[88]

Boundaries between the different youth subcultures appear to have been blurred, and nostalgic sentiments have risen.[17][18] Although an aesthetic dubbed 'cottagecore' in 2018 has been around for many years,[89] it has become a subculture of Generation Z,[90] especially on various social media networks in the wake of the mass lockdowns imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19.[91] It is a form of escapism[89] and aspirational nostalgia.[92] Cottagecore became even more popular thanks to the commercial success of the 2020 album Folklore by singer and songwriter Taylor Swift.[93][94][95]

Nostalgia culture among Generation Z even extends to the usage of automobiles; in some countries, such as Indonesia, there are social media communities surrounding the purchasing used cars from earlier decades.[96]

A survey conducted by OnePoll found that while museums and heritage sites remained popular among Britons between the ages of 18 and 30, 19% did not visit one in the previous year. There was a big gender gap in attitudes, with 16% of female respondents and 26% of male respondents saying they never visited museums. Generation Z preferred staying home and watching television or browsing social media networks to visiting museums or galleries. The researchers also found that cheaper tickets, more interactive exhibitions, a greater variety of events, more food and beverage options, more convenient opening hours, and greater online presence could attract the attention of more young people.[97] On the other hand, vintage fashion is growing in popularity among Millennial and Generation Z consumers.[98]

A 2019 report by Childwise found that children between the ages of five and sixteen in the U.K. spent an average of three hours each day online. Around 70% watched Netflix in the past week and only 10% watched their favorite programs on television. Among those who watched on-demand shows, 58% did so on a mobile phone, 51% on a television set, 40% via a tablet, 35% on a gaming console, and 27% on a laptop. About one out of four came from families with voice-command computer assistants such as Alexa. YouTube and Snapchat are the most popular gateways for music and video discovery. Childwise also found that certain television series aired between the 1990s and early 2000s, such as Friends, proved popular among young people of the 2010s.[99]

Karen Gillan (as Amy Pond) and Matt Smith (the Eleventh Doctor) on set for Doctor Who (Series 5). Popular franchises such as Doctor Who have inspired numerous fan fiction stories written mostly by young female authors.

Figures from Nielsen and Magna Global revealed that the viewership of children's cable television channels such as Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon continued their steady decline from the early 2010s, with little to no alleviating effects due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many parents and their children to stay at home. On the other hand, streaming services saw healthy growth.[100][101] Disney Channel in particular lost a third of their viewers in 2020, leading to closures in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Southeast Asia.[101]

During the first two decades of the 21st century, writing and reading fan fiction became a prevalent activity worldwide. Demographic data from various depositories revealed that those who read and wrote fan fiction were overwhelmingly young, in their teens and twenties, and female.[40][102][41] For example, an analysis published in 2019 by data scientists Cecilia Aragon and Katie Davis of the site showed that some 60 billion words of contents were added during the previous 20 years by 10 million English-speaking people whose median age was 15½ years.[41] Fan fiction writers base their work on various internationally popular cultural phenomena such as K-pop, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Twilight, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and various works of Walt Disney, known as 'canon', as well as other things they considered important to their lives, like natural disasters.[40][102][41] Much of fan fiction concerns the romantic pairing of fictional characters of interest, or 'shipping'.[103] Aragon and Davis argued that writing fan fiction stories could help young people combat social isolation and hone their writing skills outside of school in an environment of like-minded people where they can receive (anonymous) constructive feedback, what they call 'distributed mentoring'.[41] Informatics specialist Rebecca Black added that fan fiction writing could also be a useful resource for English-language learners. Indeed, the analysis of Aragon and Davis showed that for every 650 reviews a fan fiction writer receives, his or her vocabulary improved by one year of age, though this may not generalize to older cohorts.[104] On the other hand, children browsing fan fiction contents might be exposed to cyberbullying, crude comments, and other inappropriate materials.[103]

Teenagers today have a plethora of options when it comes to music consumption, allowing for a highly personalized experience.[105] According to digital media company Sweety High's 2018 Gen Z Music Consumption & Spending Report, Spotify ranked first for music listening among Gen Z females, terrestrial radio ranked second, while YouTube was reported to be the preferred platform for music discovery.[106] Additional research showed that within the past few decades, popular music has gotten slower; that majorities of listeners young and old preferred older songs rather than keeping up with new ones; that the language of popular songs was becoming more negative psychologically; and that lyrics were becoming simpler and more repetitive, approaching one-word sheets, something measurable by observing how efficiently lossless compression algorithms (such as the LZ algorithm) handled them.[107] Sad music is quite popular among adolescents, though it can dampen their moods, especially among girls.[105]

A 2020 survey conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics, on 1000 members of Generation Z and 1000 Millennials, suggests that Generation Z still would like to travel, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession it induced. However, Generation Z is more likely to look carefully for package deals that would bring them the most value for their money, as many of them are already saving money for buying a house and for retirement, and they prefer more physically active trips. Mobile-friendly websites and social-media engagements are both important.[108]

Reading habits

A girl reading to a dog and its trainer (2009). Children in the late 2000s and 2010s were much less likely to read for pleasure than before.

In New Zealand, child development psychologist Tom Nicholson noted a marked decline in vocabulary usage and reading among schoolchildren, many of whom are reluctant to use the dictionary. According to a 2008 survey by the National Education Monitoring Project, about one in five four-year and eight-year pupils read books as a hobby, a ten-percent drop from 2000.[37]

In the United Kingdom, a survey of 2,000 parents and children from 2013 by Nielsen Book found that 36% of children read books for pleasure on a daily basis, 60% on a weekly basis, and 72% were read to by their parents at least once per week. Among British children, the most popular leisure activities were watching television (36%), reading (32%), social networking (20%), watching YouTube videos (17%), and playing games on mobile phones (16%). Between 2012 and 2013, children reported spending more time with video games, YouTube, and texting but less time reading (down eight percent). Among children between the ages of 11 and 17, the share of non-readers grew from 13% to 27% between 2012 and 2013, those who read once to thrice a month (occasional readers) dropped from 45% to 38%, those who read for no more than an average of 15 minutes per week (light readers) rose from 23% to 27%, those who read between 15 and 45 minutes per week (medium readers) declined from 23% to 17%, and those who read at least 45 minutes a week (heavy readers) grew slightly from 15% to 16%.[109]

A survey by the National Literacy Trust from 2019 showed that only 26% of people below the age of 18 spent at least some time each day reading, the lowest level since records began in 2005. Interest in reading for pleasure declined with age, with five- to eight-year-olds being twice as likely to say they enjoyed reading compared to fourteen- to sixteen-year-olds. There was a significant gender gap in voluntary reading, with only 47% of boys compared to 60% of girls said they read for pleasure. One in three children reported having trouble finding something interesting to read.[33]

The aforementioned Nielsen Book survey found that the share of British households with at least one electronic tablet rose from 24% to 50% between 2012 and 2013.[109] According to a 2020 Childwise report based on interviews with 2,200 British children between the ages of five and sixteen, young people today are highly dependent on their mobile phones. Most now get their first device at the age of seven. By the age of eleven, having a cell phone became almost universal. Among those aged seven to sixteen, the average time spent on the phone each day is three and a third hours. 57% said they went to bed with their phones beside them and 44% told the interviewers they felt "uncomfortable" in the absence of their phones. Due to the nature of this technology—cell phones are personal and private devices—it can be difficult for parents to monitor their children's activities and shield them from inappropriate content.[110]

In the United States, a research team headed by psychologist Jean Twenge analyzed data sets from Monitoring the Future, an ongoing survey of a nationally representative sample of 50,000 teenagers each year from grades eight, ten, and twelve, from 1976 to 2016, for a grand total of  , with 51% being female. Originally, there were only twelfth graders; eighth- and tenth graders were added in 1991. They concluded that "compared with previous generations, teens in the 2010s spent more time online and less time with traditional media, such as books, magazines and television. Time on digital media has displaced time once spent enjoying a book or watching TV." Between 2006 and 2016, usage of digital media increased 100% among twelfth-graders, 75% among tenth-graders, and 68% among eighth-graders. Twelfth-graders spent a grand total of six hours each day texting, social networking, or gaming in the mid-2010s. In 2016, only two out of a hundred tenth-graders read a newspaper daily, down from one in three in the early 1990s. That same year, only 16% of twelfth-graders read a book or a magazine daily, down from 60% in the 1970s. Twelfth-graders also read on average two fewer books per year in the mid-2016 than the mid-1970s, and a third did not read books at all (including e-books) compared to one-ninth in the 1970s. Gaps along sexual, racial, or socioeconomic lines were statistically insignificant. This secular decline in leisure reading came as a surprise for the researchers because "It's so convenient to read books and magazines on electronic devices like tablets. There's no more going to the mailbox or the bookstore—you just download the magazine issue or book and start reading."[34][111]


Though many countries, particularly developed countries, are struggling with ageing populations and declining birth rates, Generation Z is currently the largest generation on Earth.[112] Bloomberg analysis of United Nations data predicted that, in 2019, members of Generation Z accounted for 2.47 billion (32%) of the 7.7 billion inhabitants of Earth, surpassing the Millennial population of 2.43 billion. The generational cutoff of Generation Z and Millennials for this analysis was placed at 2000 to 2001.[113][114]


Generation Z currently comprises the majority of the population of Africa.[115] In 2017, 60% of the 1.2 billion people living in Africa fell below the age of 25.[116]

In 2019, 46% of the South African population, or 27.5 million people, are members of Generation Z.[117]

Statistical projections from the United Nations in 2019 suggest that, in 2020, the people of Niger had a median age of 15.2, Mali 16.3, Chad 16.6, Somalia, Uganda, and Angola all 16.7, the Democratic Republic of the Congo 17.0, Burundi 17.3, Mozambique and Zambia both 17.6. This means that more than half of their populations were born in the first two decades of the 21st century. These are the world's youngest countries by median age.[118]


According to a 2020 McKinsey & Company analysis, Generation Z (defined as born from 1996 to 2012) will account for a quarter of the population of the Asia-Pacific region by 2025.[119]

As a result of cultural ideals, government policy, and modern medicine, there have been severe gender population imbalances in China and India. According to the United Nations, in 2018, there were 112 Chinese males for every hundred females ages 15 to 29; in India, there were 111 males for every hundred females in that age group. China had a total of 34 million excess males and India 37 million, more than the entire population of Malaysia. Together, China and India had a combined 50 million excess males under the age of 20. Such a discrepancy fuels loneliness epidemics, human trafficking (from elsewhere in Asia, such as Cambodia and Vietnam), and prostitution, among other societal problems.[120]


Out of the approximately 66.8 million people of the UK in 2019, there were approximately 12.6 million people (18.8%) in Generation Z, if defined as those born from 1997 to 2012.[121]

Generation Z is the most diverse generation in the European Union in regards to national origin.[122] In Europe generally, 13.9% of those ages 14 and younger in 2019 (which includes older Generation Alpha) were born in another EU Member State, and 6.6% were born outside the EU. In Luxembourg, 20.5% were born in another country, largely within the EU (6.6% outside the EU compared to 13.9% in another member state); in Ireland, 12.0% were born in another country; in Sweden, 9.4% were born in another country, largely outside the EU (7.8% outside the EU compared to 1.6% in another member state). However, Gen Z from eastern Europe is much more homogenous: in Croatia, only 0.7% of those aged 14 and younger were foreign-born; in Czechia, 1.1% aged 14 and younger were foreign-born.[122]

Higher portions of those ages 15 to 29 in 2019 (which includes younger Millennials) were foreign born in Europe. Luxembourg had the highest share of young people (41.9%) born in a foreign country. More than 20% of this age group were foreign-born in Cyprus, Malta, Austria and Sweden. The highest shares of non-EU born young adults were found in Sweden, Spain and Luxemburg. Like with those under age 14, countries in eastern Europe generally have much smaller populations of foreign-born young adults. Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Latvia had the lowest shares of foreign-born young people, at 1.4 to 2.5% of the total age group.[122]

North America

Data from Statistics Canada published in 2017 showed that Generation Z comprised 17.6% of the Canadian population.[123]

A report by demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution stated that in the United States, the Millennials are a bridge between the largely white pre-Millennials (Generation X and their predecessors) and the more diverse post-Millennials (Generation Z and their successors).[124] Frey's analysis of U.S. Census data suggests that as of 2019, 50.9% of Generation Z is white, 13.8% is black, 25.0% Hispanic, and 5.3% Asian.[125] 29% of Generation Z are children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, compared to 23% of Millennials when they were at the same age.[126]

Members of Generation Z are slightly less likely to be foreign-born than Millennials;[127] the fact that more American Latinos were born in the U.S. rather than abroad plays a role in making the first wave of Generation Z appear better educated than their predecessors. However, researchers warn that this trend could be altered by changing immigration patterns and the younger members of Generation Z choosing alternate educational paths.[128] As a demographic cohort, Generation Z is smaller than the Baby Boomers and their children, the Millennials.[129] According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Generation Z makes up about one quarter of the U.S. population, as of 2015.[130] There was an 'echo boom' in the 2000s, which certainly increased the absolute number of future young adults, but did not significantly change the relative sizes of this cohort compared to their parents.[131]

According to a 2021 Gallup survey, 16%, or about one in six, members of Gen Z identify as LGBTQ+.[132]


Global trends

Enrollment in primary schools in developing countries has been rising steadily since the mid-20th century. By the 1990s and 2000s, primary-school enrollment rates in these countries approached 100%, sitting just below those of the developed world.[133] According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), countries spent an average of US$10,759 educating their children from primary school to university in 2014.[134]

Over 600,000 students between the ages of eight and nine from 49 countries and territories took part in the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The highest-scoring students in mathematics hailed from Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. In particular, the gap between the lowest scoring East Asian country (Japan, at 593) was 23 points higher than the next nation (Northern Ireland, at 570), which was unchanged from 2011. In science, the top scorers were from Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and Hong Kong.[43]

The OECD-sponsored Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is administered every three years to fifteen-year-old schoolchildren around the world on reading comprehension, mathematics, and science. Students from 71 nations and territories took the PISA tests in 2015. Students with the highest average scores in mathematics came from Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Japan; in science from Singapore, Japan, Estonia, Taiwan, and Finland; and in reading from Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland, and Ireland.[45]

In 2019, the OECD surveyed educational standards and achievement of its 36 member states and found that while education spending has gone up by an average of 15% over the previous decade, the academic performance of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, and science on the PISA has largely stagnated. Students from China and Singapore, both outside of the OECD, continued to outclass their global peers. Among all the countries that sent their students to take the PISA, only Albania, Colombia, Macao, Moldova, Peru, Portugal, and Qatar saw any improvements since joining. Of these, only Portugal is an OECD country. Meanwhile, Australia, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovakia, and South Korea all saw a decline in overall performance since joining. Funding, while important, is not necessarily the most important thing, as the case of Estonia demonstrates. Estonia spent 30% below the OECD average yet still achieved top marks.[32]

The socioeconomic background is a key factor in academic success in the OECD, with students coming from families in the top 10% of the income distribution being three years ahead in reading skills compared to those from the bottom 10%. However, the link between background and performance was weakest in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, meaning these countries have the most equitable education systems.[32] A proposed method of assessing the equality of educational opportunities in a given society is to measure the heritability of academic ability as empirical evidence does support the hypothesis that the heritability of test results is higher in a country with a national curriculum compared to one with a decentralized system; having a national curriculum aimed at equality reduces environmental influences.[135]

Different nations and territories approach the question of how to nurture gifted students differently. During the 2000s and 2010s, whereas the Middle East and East Asia (especially China, Hong Kong, and South Korea) and Singapore actively sought them out and steered them towards top programs, Europe and the United States had in mind the goal of inclusion and chose to focus on helping struggling students. In 2010, for example, China unveiled a decade-long National Talent Development Plan to identify able students and guide them into STEM fields and careers in high demand; that same year, England dismantled its National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth and redirected the funds to help low-scoring students get admitted to elite universities. Developmental cognitive psychologist David Geary observed that Western educators remained "resistant" to the possibility that even the most talented of schoolchildren needed encouragement and support and tended to concentrate on low performers. In addition, even though it is commonly believed that past a certain IQ benchmark (typically 120), practice becomes much more important than cognitive abilities in mastering new knowledge, recently published research papers based on longitudinal studies, such as the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) and the Duke University Talent Identification Program, suggest otherwise.[42]

A 2020 exam session at the Ecole Polytechnique, Paris, France. COVID-19 has disrupted education worldwide.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education of around one and a half billion students, as schools in 165 countries closed their doors and 60 million teachers were sent home, according to UNESCO. A number of countries tackled the problem by expanding access to the Internet in remote areas or broadcasting more educational materials on national television.[136]

Since the early 2000s, the number of students from emerging economies going abroad for higher education has risen markedly. During the 2010s, while the number electing to study in the United Kingdom and the United States largely evened out, more and more opted for Australia and Canada. This was a golden age of growth for many Western universities admitting international students.[137] In the late 2010s, around five million students trotted the globe each year for higher education, with the developed world being the most popular destinations and China the biggest source of international students.[137] Chinese government statistics show that 660,000 students studied abroad in 2018, more than thrice the number a decade prior. In 2019, the United States was the most popular destination for Chinese university students, with 30% of the international student body coming from mainland China, followed by Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan.[138] But as relations between the West and China soured and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Western universities saw their revenue from foreign students plummet and will have to reconfigure themselves in order to survive. Government assistance might not be available due to the strained ties between universities and many politicians, who are skeptical of the value of higher education because even though admissions have boomed, productivity growth has slowed.[139] Moreover, political battles in the West are increasingly fought between those who have university degrees and those who do not. In any case, universities that are highly dependent on revenue for foreign students face the possibility of bankruptcy. COVID-19 has ended the golden age of universities.[137]

For information on public support for higher education (for domestic students) in various countries in 2019, see the chart below.

In Asia

In South Korea, teaching is a prestigious and rewarding position and the education system is highly centralized and focused on testing. Similarly, in Singapore, becoming a teacher is by no means an easy task and the nation's education system is also centrally managed.[134]

In Europe

In Finland, during the 2010s, it was extremely difficult to become a schoolteacher, as admissions rates for a teacher's training program were even lower than for programs in law or medicine.[134] According to the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), French students scored last in mathematics and next-to-last in science when compared to other member states of the European Union. French fourth graders (students aged eight to nine) scored an average of 488 points in mathematics and 487 in science, compared to the E.U. average of 527 and 525, respectively. Internationally, France ranked in 35th place out of the 49 participant countries and territories.[43] French mediocrity in mathematics at the level of grade school notwithstanding, the situation in higher education and research was a revelation, as can be seen in the number of Fields Medalists the nation has produced, which is more than any other country except the United States.[140][141]

In early 2020, the Paris-Saclay University opened. It merged some 20 tertiary and research institutions (including the elite grandes écoles and specialized research institutes), employs 9,000 teaching and research faculty members and serves 48,000 students. It is dedicated to science and is intended to be what President Emmanuel Macron called the "MIT à la française." Although the French were previously indifferent towards international rankings of universities, Paris-Saclay is, as of 2020, one of the best in the world, especially in mathematics.[141]

In France, while year-long mandatory military service for men was abolished in 1996 by President Jacques Chirac, who wanted to build a professional all-volunteer military,[142] all citizens between 17 and 25 years of age must still participate in the Defense and Citizenship Day (JAPD), when they are introduced to the French Armed Forces, and take language tests.[142] In 2019, President Macron introduced something similar to mandatory military service, but for teenagers, as promised during his presidential campaign. Known as the Service National Universel or SNU, it is a compulsory civic service. While students will not have to shave their heads or handle military equipment, they will have to sleep in tents, get up early (at 6:30 am), participate in various physical activities, raise the tricolor, and sing the national anthem. They will have to wear a uniform, though it is more akin to the outfit of security guards rather than military personnel. This program takes a total of four weeks. In the first two, youths learn how to provide first aid, how to navigate with a map, how to recognize fake news, emergency responses for various scenarios, and self-defense. In addition, they get health checks and get tested on their mastery of the French language, and they participate in debates on a variety of social issues, including environmentalism, state secularism, and gender equality. In the second fortnight, they volunteer with a charity for local government. The aim of this program is to promote national cohesion and patriotism, at a time of deep division on religious and political grounds, to get people out of their neighborhoods and regions, and mix people of different socioeconomic classes, something mandatory military service used to do. Supporters thought that teenagers rarely raise the national flag, spend too much time on their phones, and felt nostalgic for the era of compulsory military service, considered a rite of passage for young men and a tool of character-building. Critics argued that this program is inadequate, and would cost too much.[143] The SNU is projected to affect some 800,000 French citizens each year when it becomes mandatory for all aged 16 to 21 by 2026, at a cost of some €1.6 billion.[143] Another major concern is that it will overburden the French military, already stretched thin by counter-terrorism campaigns at home and abroad.[142] A 2015 IFOP poll revealed that 80% of the French people supported some kind of mandatory service, military, or civilian. At the same time, returning to conscription was also popular; supporters included 90% of the UMP party, 89% of the National Front (now the National Rally), 71% of the Socialist Party, and 67% of people aged 18 to 24. This poll was conducted after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.[144]

1909 illustration of Macbeth by Arthur Rackham for Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare. Many British schoolboys struggled with English classics including the works of Shakespeare.

In the early 2010s, British schoolboys found themselves falling behind girls in reading comprehension. In 2011, only 80% of boys reached the expected reading level at age 11 compared to 88% of girls; the gap widened to 12 points at age 14. Previous research suggests this is due to the general tendency of boys not receiving a lot of encouragement in voluntary reading.[145] Teachers noticed that secondary schoolboys struggled to carry on reading. 25% said interest waned within the first few pages, 22% the first 50 pages, another 25% the first hundred. Almost a third reported that boys lost interest on the cover if the book had more than 200 pages. English-language literary classics most unpopular among boys included the novels of Jane Austen, the plays of William Shakespeare (especially Macbeth, The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night's Dream), and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.[146]

69% of British primary school teachers and 60% of secondary school teachers reported in 2018 they saw a growing frequency of substandard vocabulary levels in their students of all ages, leading to not just low self-esteem and various other behavioral and social problems, but also to greater difficulty in courses such as English and history and in important exams such as the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), a set of school-leaving exams required for 16-year-olds. 49% of Year 1 students and 43% of children in Year 7 (ages 11 to 12) lacked the vocabulary to excel in school. Many believed that the decline in reading for pleasure among students, especially older teenagers, to be the cause of this trend. Psychologist Kate Nation warned, "Regardless of the causes, low levels of vocabulary set limits on literacy, understanding, learning the curriculum and can create a downward spiral of poor language which begins to affect all aspects of life."[38][39]

In 2017, almost half of Britons have received higher education by the age of 30. This is despite the fact that £9,000 worth of student fees were introduced in 2012. U.K. universities first introduced fees in autumn 1998 to address financial troubles and the fact that universities elsewhere charged tuition. Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced the goal of having half of young Britons earning a university degree in 1999, though he missed the 2010 deadline.[147] Blair did not take into account the historical reality that an oversupply of young people with high levels of education precipitated periods of political instability and unrest in various societies, from early modern Western Europe and late Tokugawa Japan to the Soviet Union, modern Iran, and the United States. Quantitative historian Peter Turchin termed this elite overproduction.[148][149] Turchin estimated that 30% of British university graduates were overqualified given the requirements of their jobs[150] while the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reckoned that one out of five graduates would have been better off had they not gone to university.[139] The IFS also warned that 13 British universities risked bankruptcy as admissions fall precipitously due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, admissions rise during an economic recession as people seek to enhance their competitiveness in the workforce, but this did not happen with the one induced by the pandemic due to requirements of social distancing and the availability of online classes.[139] Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made the case for better vocational training. "We need to recognize that a significant and growing minority of young people leave university and work in a non-graduate job," he said.[150]

Nevertheless, demand for higher education in the United Kingdom remains strong, driven by the need for high-skilled workers from both the public and private sectors. There was, however, a widening gender gap. As of 2017, women were more likely to attend or have attended university than men, 55% to 43%, a 12% gap.[147]

In North America

2018 PISA test results showed that in reading comprehension, Canadian high-school students ranked above the OECD average, but below China and Singapore. Students from Alberta scored above the national average, from British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia about average, and Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island below average. Nationally, 14% of Canadian students scored below Level 2 (407 points or higher), but with a significant gender gap. While 90% of girls were at Level 2 or higher, only 82% of boys did the same, in spite of the initiatives aimed at encouraging boys to read more. Overall, the Canadian PISA reading average has declined since 2000, albeit with a significant bump in 2015. In mathematics, Canada was behind China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Estonia, and Finland that year, when 600,000 students from 79 countries took the PISA tests. There was no improvement in the mathematical skills of Canadian students since 2012 as assessed by PISA, with one in six students scoring below the benchmark.[44][151]

During the 2010s, investigative journalists and authorities have unveiled numerous instances of academic dishonesty in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, ranging from contract cheating (buying an essay, hiring someone to complete an assignment, or to take an exam) to bribing admissions officers. In some instances, advertisements for contract cheating were found right next to university campuses. The actual prevalence of plagiarism remains unknown, and early research might have underestimated the true extent of this behavior.[152]

While courses on home economics, also known as family and consumer sciences (FCS), were commonplace in the United States during the 20th century, they were on the decline in the early 21st for a variety of reasons, ranging from a shortage of qualified teachers to funding cuts.[153] This is despite attempts to revise them for life in the contemporary era. FCS courses in the past taught the basics of cooking and housework but now also teach nutrition, community gardening, composting, personal finance, among other topics; they are intended to fill in the gaps of knowledge that parents in the olden days taught their children but in many cases can no longer do because both parents are working.[154] In 2012, there were only 3.5 million students enrolled in FCS courses in secondary schools, a drop of 38% from the previous decade.[155] In 2013, less than a third of American public schools had access to broadband Internet service, according to the non-profit EducationSuperHighway. By 2019, however, that number reached 99%, which has increased the frequency of digital learning.[156]

According to the World Economic Forum, over one in five members of Generation Z are interested in attending a trade or technical school instead of a college or university.[157] In the United States today, high school students are generally encouraged to attend college or university after graduation while the options of technical school and vocational training are often neglected.[158] According to the 2018 CNBC All-American Economic Survey, only 40% of Americans believed that the financial cost of a four-year university degree is justified, down from 44% five years before. Moreover, only 50% believed a four-year program is the best kind of training, down from 60%, and the number of people who saw value in a two-year program jumped from 18% to 26%. These findings are consistent with other reports.[159]

STEM and healthcare grew in popularity while the humanities and liberal arts have declined.

Members of Generation Z are anxious to pick majors that teach them marketable skills.[160] According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), some 88% consider job preparation to be the point of college. 39% are aiming for a career in medicine or healthcare, 20% in the natural sciences, 18% in biology or biotechnology, and 17% in business.[161] A 2018 Gallup poll on over 32,000 university students randomly selected from 43 schools from across the United States found that just over half (53%) of them thought their chosen major would lead to gainful employment. STEM students expressed the highest confidence (62%) while those in the liberal arts were the least confident (40%). Just over one in three thought they would learn the skills and knowledge needed to become successful in the workplace.[162] Because jobs (that matched what one studied) were so difficult to find in the few years following the Great Recession, the value of getting a liberal arts degree and studying the humanities at university came into question, their ability to develop a well-rounded and broad-minded individual notwithstanding.[163] While the number of students majoring in the humanities has fallen significantly, those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, have risen sharply.[160] About a quarter of American university students failed to graduate within six years in the late 2010s and those who did face diminishing wage premiums.[139]

According to the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 73% of American eighth and twelfth graders had deficient writing skills.[41] There have been numerous reports in the 2010s on how U.S. students were falling behind their international counterparts in the STEM subjects, especially those from (East) Asia. This is a source of concern for some because academically gifted students in STEM can have an inordinately positive impact on the national economy. In addition, while American students are less focused on STEM, students from China and India are not only outperforming them but are also coming to the United States in large numbers for higher education.[46]

Data from the Institute of International Education showed that compared to the 2013–14 academic year, the number of foreign students enrolling in American colleges and universities peaked in 2015–6, with about 300,000 students, before falling slightly in subsequent years. Compared to the 2017–18 academic year, 2018-19 saw a drop of 1% in the number of foreign students. This is a concern for institutions that have become reliant on international enrollment for revenue, as they typically charge foreign students more than their domestic counterparts. As of 2019, these were the first downturn in a decade. However, the number of foreign graduates staying for work or further training has increased. In 2019, there were 220,000 who were authorized to stay for temporary work, a 10% rise compared to fall 2017. The top sources of students studying abroad in the United States were China, South Korea, India, and Saudi Arabia (in that order). While the number of Chinese students on American soil has fallen noticeably—due to a variety of factors, such as the reported difficulty of obtaining a U.S. visa amid the ongoing Sino-American trade war, more competition from Canada and Australia, and growing anti-Chinese sentiments due to concerns over intellectual property theft—students coming from elsewhere in Asia (though not South Korea and Japan), Latin America, and Africa have gone up. In particular, the number of Nigerian students climbed 6% while those from Brazil and Bangladesh rose 10%. The most popular majors have shifted, with business, an academic subject extremely popular among Chinese students, falling by 7% in the 2018–19 academic year. Meanwhile, mathematics and computer science jumped 9%, replacing business as the second most popular majors after engineering.[164]

In 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and souring Sino-American relations, the number of students from mainland China being granted an F-1 visa dropped 99% compared to the previous year.[138] More broadly, a survey of over 700 institutions of higher learning revealed that the number of foreign students matriculating in the U.S. fell 43%. But before the pandemic, the Trump administration, well known for its tough stance on immigration, has introduced new guidelines restricting the number of people who qualified for and the expiration date of student visas as well as the H1-B visa program.[165]

In Oceania

By the late 2010s, education has become Australia's fourth-largest export, after coal, iron ore, and natural gas. For Australia, foreign students are highly lucrative, bringing AU$9 billion into the Australian economy in 2018. That amount was also just over a quarter of the revenue stream for Australian universities. In 2019, Australian institutions of higher education welcomed 440,000 foreign students, who took up about 30% of all seats. 40% of non-Australian students hailed from China. In response to a surge in interest from prospective foreign students, Australian universities have invested lavishly in research laboratories, learning facilities, and art collections. Some senior bureaucrats saw their salaries rise tremendously. But the topic of international students is a contentious one in Australia. Proponents of accepting high numbers of foreign students said this was because the Australian government was not providing sufficient funding, forcing schools to take in more from other countries. Critics argued universities have made themselves too dependent on foreign revenue streams. In 2020, as SARS-CoV-2 spread around the globe, international travel restrictions were imposed, preventing foreign students from going to university in Australia, where the academic year begins in January. This proved to be a serious blow to the higher-education industry in Australia because it is more dependent on foreign students than its counterparts in other English-speaking countries. Australia's federal government excluded universities AU$60bn wage-subsidy scheme because it wanted to focus on domestic students, who, it said, will continue to receive funding. Federal and state governments were likely to provide relief to small regional institutions, but, like the big universities, they might need to shrink in order to survive.[166]

In the workforce

Global developments

Goldman Sachs analysts Robert Boroujerdi and Christopher Wolf described Generation Z as "more conservative, more money-oriented, more entrepreneurial and pragmatic about money compared with Millennials."[167] In 2018, as the number of robots at work continued to increase, the global unemployment rate fell to 5.2%, the lowest in 38 years. Current trends suggest that developments in artificial intelligence and robotics will not result in mass unemployment but can actually create high-skilled jobs. However, in order to take advantage of this situation, one needs a culture and an education system that promote lifelong learning. Honing skills that machines have not yet mastered, such as teamwork and effective communication, will be crucial.[168][169]

Parents of Generation Z might have the image of their child's first business being a lemonade stand or car wash. While these are great first businesses, Generation Z now has access to social media platforms, website builders, 3D printers, and drop shipping platforms which provides them with additional opportunities to start a business at a young age. The internet has provided a store front for Generation Z to sell their ideas to people around the world without ever leaving their house.[170]

As technological progress continues, something that is made evident by the emergence of or breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, three-dimensional printing, nanotechnology, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, among other fields, culminating in what economist Klaus Schwab calls the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution', the demand for innovative, well-educated, and highly skilled workers continues to rise, as do their incomes. Demand for low-pay and low-skilled workers, on the other hand, will continue to fall.[171]

By analyzing data from the United Nations and the Global Talent Competitive Index, KDM Engineering found that as of 2019, the top five countries for international high-skilled workers are Switzerland, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Sweden. Factors taken into account included the ability to attract high-skilled foreign workers, business-friendliness, regulatory environment, the quality of education, and the standard of living. Switzerland is best at retaining talents due to its excellent quality of life. Singapore is home to a world-class environment for entrepreneurs. And the United States offers the most opportunity for growth due to the sheer size of its economy and the quality of higher education and training.[172] As of 2019, these are also some of the world's most competitive economies, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). In order to determine a country or territory's economic competitiveness, the WEF considers factors such as the trustworthiness of public institutions, the quality of infrastructure, macro-economic stability, the quality of healthcare, business dynamism, labor market efficiency, and innovation capacity.[173]

In 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic not only created a health crisis but also triggered a severe economic downturn. While they are less likely to suffer from the disease, many people born between the late 1990s and early 2000s now face rather dim economic prospects, as companies cut back on hiring, cancel internships, and fire their employees in order to stay in business. Low-skilled workers and those who just graduated are affected the most, but professionals who are able to work from home are spared.[174] Investment opportunities available to Generation Z are also not as lucrative as they once were.[175] In addition, as governments around the world desperately tried to contain the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic, young people now face smaller returns on investments and a world of staggering public debts,[175] amounting to US$281 trillion or 356% of global GDP at the end of 2020.[176]


Statistics from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reveal that between 2014 and 2019, Japan's unemployment rate went from about 4% to 2.4% and China's from almost 4.5% to 3.8%. These are some of the lowest rates among the top economies.[177]

When he came to power in 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong vowed to abolish capitalism and social classes. 'Old money' ceased to exist in China as a result of a centrally planned economy. But that changed in the 1980s when Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms; the middle and upper classes have blossoming ever since. In fact, he considered getting rich to be "glorious". Chinese cities have morphed into major shopping centers. The number of billionaires (in U.S. dollars) in China is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, so much so that butler academies, whose students will serve the 'new rich', and finishing schools, whose students were born to rich parents, have been established. A number of young Chinese entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the Internet to become social media influencers to sell their products.[178]

Technology companies and startups are booming in China and Southeast Asia. Whereas in the past, Chinese firms copied the business strategies and models from their U.S. counterparts, now, they are developing their own approaches, and Southeast Asian companies are learning from their success and experience, a practice known as "Copy from China". E-commerce has been flourishing. In Singapore, for example, not only is it now possible to place orders online, but one may also purchase groceries in person, pay by mobile phone, and have them packed by machines; there are no cashiers. Whereas Westerners were first introduced to the Internet via their personal computers, people in China and Southeast Asia first got online with their mobile phones. Consequently, the e-commerce industry's heavy usage of mobile phone applications has paid off handsomely. In particular, Chinese entrepreneurs invest in what are known as "super-apps", those that enable users to access all kinds of services within them, not just messaging, but also bike rentals and digital wallets. In Indonesia, relying on credit card payments is difficult because the market penetration of this technology remains rather low (as of 2019). Nevertheless, e-commerce and ride-hailing are growing there, too. But it is Singapore that is the startup hub of the region, thanks to its excellent infrastructure, government support, and abundant capital. Furthermore, Singaporean technology firms are "uniquely positioned" to learn from both the U.S. and China.[179]

China's Generation Z has been taking advantage of the variety of lending options available to them, albeit at the cost of exceedingly high and possibly illegal interest rates. Although authorities have been cracking down on questionable money lenders, there is still a plethora of ways to borrow money. According to Bloomberg, China's household debt-to-GDP ratio jumped from 27% in 2010 to 57% in 2019. For comparison, household debt was 126% of GDP in Australia, 99% in South Korea, and 75% in the United States, according to Bank of America. However, Fitch Ratings estimated that the rate of growth was twice that of nominal GDP. According to the People's Bank of China, the nation's debt-to-disposable income ratio was 99.9% in 2019, up from 93.4% the previous year.[180]


In Europe, although the unemployment rates of France and Italy remained relatively high, they were markedly lower than previously. Meanwhile, the German unemployment rate dipped below even that of the United States, a level not seen since its unification almost three decades prior.[177] Eurostat reported in 2019 that the overall unemployment rate across the European Union dropped to its lowest level since January 2000, at 6.2% in August, meaning about 15.4 million people were out of a job. The Czech Republic (3%), Germany (3.1%), and Malta (3.3%) enjoyed the lowest levels of unemployment. Member states with the highest unemployment rates were Italy (9.5%), Spain (13.8%), and Greece (17%). Countries with higher unemployment rates compared to 2018 were Denmark (from 4.9% to 5%), Lithuania (6.1% to 6.6%), and Sweden (6.3% to 7.1%).[181]

In November 2019, the European Commission expressed concern over the fact that some member states have "failed to put their finances in order". Belgium, France, and Spain had a debt-to-GDP ratio of almost 100% each while Italy's was 136%. Under E.U. rules, member nations must take steps to decrease public debt if it exceeds 60% of GDP. The Commission commended Greece for making progress in economic recovery.[182]

Top five high-skilled professions with insufficient workers in the European Union (late 2010s).

According to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop), the European Union in the late 2010s suffers from shortages of STEM specialists (including ICT professionals), medical doctors, nurses, midwives, and schoolteachers. However, the picture varies depending on the country. In Italy, environmentally friendly architecture is in high demand. Estonia and France are running short of legal professionals. Ireland, Luxembourg, Hungary, and the United Kingdom need more financial experts. All member states except Finland need more ICT specialists, and all but Belgium, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, and the United Kingdom need more teachers. The supply of STEM graduates has been insufficient because the dropout rate is high and because of an ongoing brain drain from some countries. Some countries need more teachers because many are retiring and need to be replaced. At the same time, Europe's aging population necessitates the expansion of the healthcare sector. Disincentives for (potential) workers in jobs in high demand include low social prestige, low salaries, and stressful work environments. Indeed, many have left the public sector for industry while some STEM graduates have taken non-STEM jobs.[183]

Spanish think-tank Fedea noted that there were not enough young Europeans enrolled in vocational programs that teach them skills favored by the job market. Many new entrants to the workforce lacked the necessary skills demanded by employers.[184]

Even though pundits predicted that the uncertainty due to the Brexit referendum would cause the British economy to falter or even fall into a recession, the unemployment rate has dipped below 4% while real wages have risen slightly in the late 2010s, two percent as of 2019. In particular, medical doctors and dentists saw their earnings bumped above the inflation rate in July 2019. Despite the government promising an increase in public spending (£13 billion, or 0.6% of GDP) in September 2019, the public deficit continued to decline, as it has since 2010. Nevertheless, uncertainty surrounding Britain's international trade policy suppressed the chances of an export boom despite the depreciation of the pound sterling.[185] According to the employment website Glassdoor, the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the United Kingdom in 2019 are investment banking analyst, software engineer, business analyst, data scientist, financial analyst, software developer, civil engineer, audit assistant, design engineer, and mechanical engineer. Their median base salaries range from about £28,000 to £51,000 a year. In general, people with STEM degrees have the best chances of being recruited into a high-paying jobs. According to the Office for National Statistics, the median income of the United Kingdom in 2018 was £29,588.[186]

In the United Kingdom, the number of teenagers who owned businesses jumped from 491 in 2009 to 4,152 in 2019. These people primarily use social media platforms to establish their careers.[187]

Due to the strong correlation between economic growth and youth employment, recessions come with dire consequences for young people in the workforce. In the struggling Southern European economies, such as Greece and Spain, youth unemployment lingered on in the aftermath of the Great Recession, remaining stuck at around a third. With another recession induced by the COVID-19 global pandemic, it could rise to about half. Even the Czech Republic, which previously boasted the lowest youth unemployment rate in Europe, at about 5%, could see that number triple in 2020. Overall, European job markets are hostile towards new entrants, who, unlike their older counterparts, do not have permanent contracts and are often the first to be laid off during hard times. E.U. average unemployment has gone up, but youth unemployment went up even more; among workers below the age of 25, it stood at 15.7% in May 2020.[184]

North America

Between 2014 and 2019, Canada's overall unemployment rate fell from about 7% to below 6%, according to the IMF.[177] In 2017, the magazine Canadian Business analyzed publicly available data from Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada to determine the top occupations on the basis of growth and salaries. They included construction managers, mining and quarry managers, pilots and flying instructors, software engineers, police officers, firefighters, urban planners, petroleum, chemical, agricultural, biomedical, aerospace, and railroad engineers, business services managers, deck officers, corporate sales managers, pharmacists, elevator mechanics, lawyers, economic development directors, real-estate and financial managers, telecommunications managers, utility managers, pipe-fitting managers, forestry managers, nurse practitioners, and public administration managers.[188] However, in the late 2010s, Canada's oil and gas industry has been in decline due to a lack of political support and unfavorable policies from Ottawa. The number of oil rigs in Western Canada, where most of the country's deposits are located, dropped from 900 in 2014 to 550 in 2019. Many Canadian companies have moved their crew and equipment to the United States, especially to Texas.[189] As the COVID-19 pandemic mauled the Canadian economy, Generation Z was one of the worst affected groups, with 70% being CAN$200 or less away from insolvency, a figure that includes 39% who were already insolvent.[190]

Americans aged 15 to 21 expect to be financially independent in their early twenties while their parents generally expect them to become so by their mid-twenties.[191] While the Millennials tend to prefer flexibility, Generation Z is more interested in certainty and stability.[192] Whereas 23% of Millennials would leave a job if they thought they were not appreciated, only 15% of Generation Z would do the same, according to a Deloitte survey.[193] According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 77% of Generation Z expects to work harder than previous generations.[194] As a result, barely one in two recruits from Generation Z are willing to negotiate a higher salary, even though, as of 2019, the U.S. labor market is very tight, meaning the balance of power is currently in favor of job seekers, collectively.[195] Indeed, Employers are open to negotiations for higher salaries and better benefits in order to attract talents.[195] While there is agreement across generations that it is very important for employees to learn new skills, Millennials and Generation Z are overwhelmingly more likely than Baby Boomers to think that it is the job of employees to train themselves. Baby Boomers tend to think it is the employer's responsibility. Moreover, Millennials and Generation Z (74%) tend to have more colleagues working remotely for a significant portion of their time compared to the Baby Boomers (58%).[196] An overwhelming majority, 80%, prefers to work for a medium-sized or large company.[194] A Morgan Stanley report, called the Blue Paper, projected that the Millennials and Generation Z have been responsible for a surge in labor participation in the U.S. and that while the U.S. labor force expands, that of other G10 countries will contract. This development alleviates concerns over America's aging population which jeopardizes the solvency of various welfare programs.[197] As of 2019, Millennials and Generation Z account for 38% of the U.S. workforce; that number will rise to 58% in the incoming decade.[196]

According to the United States Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in September 2019 was 3.5%, a number not seen since December 1969.[198] At the same time, labor participation remained steady and most job growth tended to be full-time positions.[198] The number of people who ended up with part-time positions despite looking for full-time jobs dropped to 4.32 million, below the average of the previous three decades.[199] Economists generally consider a population with an unemployment rate lower than 4% to be fully employed. In fact, even people with disabilities or prison records are getting hired.[200]

According to the Department of Education, people with technical or vocational training are slightly more likely to be employed than those with a bachelor's degree and significantly more likely to be employed in their fields of specialty.[158] The United States currently suffers from a shortage of skilled tradespeople.[158] If nothing is done, this problem will get worse as older workers retire and the market tightens due to falling unemployment rates. Economists argue that raising wages could incentivize more young people to pursue these careers. Many manufacturers are partnering with community colleges to create apprenticeship and training programs. However, they still have an image problem as people perceive manufacturing jobs as unstable, given the mass layoffs during the Great Recession of 2007–8.[201] After the Great Recession, the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs reached a minimum of 11.5 million in February 2010. It rose to 12.8 million in September 2019. It was 14 million in March 2007.[202] As of 2019, manufacturing industries made up 12% of the U.S. economy, which is increasingly reliant on service industries, as is the case for other advanced economies around the world.[203] Nevertheless, 21st-century manufacturing is increasingly sophisticated, using advanced robotics, 3D printing, cloud computing, among other modern technologies, and technologically savvy employees are precisely who employers need. Four-year university degrees are unnecessary; technical or vocational training, or perhaps apprenticeships would do.[204]

Quantitative historian Peter Turchin observed that demand for labor in the United States had been stagnant since 2000 and would likely continue to 2020 as the nation went through the negative part of the Kondratiev wave. (See above.) Moreover, the share of people in their 20s continued to grow till the end of the 2010s according to projections by the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning the youth bulge would likely not fade away before the 2020s. As such the gap between the supply and demand in the labor market would likely not fall before then, and falling or stagnant wages generate sociopolitical stress.[205]

South America

Unlike some major economies, unemployment actually increased in Brazil, from about 6.7% in 2014 to about 11.4% in 2018. Although its economy remains growing, it is still recovering from a recession in 2015 and 2016. Wages have remained stagnant and the labor market has been weak.[177] Unemployment rose to 12.7% in March 2019, or about 13.4 million people. Underemployment also increased in the first quarter of 2019.[206]

Health issues


A 2020 meta-analysis found that the most common psychiatric disorders among adolescents were ADHD, anxiety disorders, behavioral disorders, and depression, consistent with a previous one from 2015.[31]

According to the OECD PISA surveys, 15-year-olds in 2015 had a tougher time making friends at school than ten years prior. European teenagers were becoming more and more like their Japanese and South Korean counterparts in social isolation. This might be due to intrusive parenting, heavy use of electronic devices, and concerns over academic performance and job prospects.[9]

Data from the British National Health Service (NHS) showed that between 1999 and 2017, the number of children below the age of 16 suffering from at least one mental disorder increased from 11.4% to 13.6%. The researcher interviewed older adolescents (aged 17–19) for the first time in 2017 and found that girls were two-thirds more likely than younger girls and twice more likely than boys from the same age group to suffer from a mental disorder. In England, hospitalizations for self-harm doubled among teenage girls between 1997 and 2018, but there was no parallel development among boys. While the number of children receiving medical attention for mental health problems has clearly gone up, this is not necessarily an epidemic as the number of self-reports went up even faster possibly due to the diminution of stigma. Furthermore, doctors are more likely than before to diagnose a case of self-harm when previously they only treated the physical injuries.[27]

Sleep deprivation

A sleeping girl (2011). Sleep deprivation was common among Generation Z teenagers of the 2010s.

Sleep deprivation is on the rise among contemporary youths,[207][28] thanks to a combination of poor sleep hygiene (having one's sleep disrupted by noise, light, and electronic devices), caffeine intake, beds that are too warm, a mismatch between biologically preferred sleep schedules at around puberty and social demands, insomnia, growing homework load, having too many extracurricular activities.[28][29] Consequences of sleep deprivation include low mood, worse emotional regulation, anxiety, depression, increased likelihood of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and impaired cognitive functioning.[28][29] In addition, teenagers and young adults who prefer to stay up late tend to have high levels of anxiety, impulsivity, alcohol intake, and tobacco smoking.[208]

A study by Glasgow University found that the number of schoolchildren in Scotland reporting sleep difficulties increased from 23% in 2014 to 30% in 2018. 37% of teenagers were deemed to have low mood (33% males and 41% females), and 14% were at risk of depression (11% males and 17% females). Older girls faced high pressure from schoolwork, friendships, family, career preparation, maintaining a good body image and good health.[209]

In Canada, teenagers sleep on average between 6.5 and 7.5 hours each night, much less than what the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends, 10 hours.[210] According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, only one out of five children who needed mental health services received it. In Ontario, for instance, the number of teenagers getting medical treatment for self-harm doubled in 2019 compared to ten years prior. The number of suicides has also gone up. Various factors that increased youth anxiety and depression include over-parenting, perfectionism (especially with regards to schoolwork), social isolation, social-media use, financial problems, housing worries, and concern over some global issues such as climate change.[211]

Cognitive abilities

A 2010 meta-analysis by an international team of mental health experts found that the worldwide prevalence of intellectual disability (ID) was around one percent. But the share of individuals with such a condition in low- to middle-income countries were up to twice as high as their wealthier counterparts because they lacked the sources needed to tackle the problem, such as preventing children from being born with ID due to hereditary conditions with antenatal genetic screening, poor child and maternal care facilities, and inadequate nutrition, leading to, for instance, iodine deficiency. The researchers also found that ID was more common among children and adolescents than adults.[30] A 2020 literature review and meta-analysis confirmed that the incidence of ID was indeed more common than estimates from the early 2000s.[31]

In 2013, a team of neuroscientists from the University College London published a paper on how neurodevelopmental disorders can affect a child's educational outcome. They found that up to 10% of the human population suffer from specific learning disabilities or about two to three children in a (Western) classroom. Such conditions include dyscalculia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorder. They are caused by abnormal brain development due to complicated environmental and genetic factors. A child may suffer from multiple learning disorders at the same time. For example, among children with ADHD, 33-45% also suffer from dyslexia and 11% from dyscalculia. Normal or high levels of intelligence offer no protection. Each child has a unique cognitive and genetic profile and would benefit from a flexible education system.[212][213]

A 2017 study from the Dominican Republic suggests that students from all sectors of the educational system utilize the Internet for academic purposes, yet those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to rank the lowest in terms of reading comprehension skills.[214]

A 2020 report by psychologist John Protzko analyzed over 30 studies and found that children have become better at delaying gratification over the previous 50 years, corresponding to an average increase of 0.18 standard deviations per decade on the IQ scale. This is contrary to the opinion of the majority of the 260 cognitive experts polled (84%), who thought this ability was deteriorating. Researchers test this ability using the Marshmallow Test. Children are offered treats: if they are willing to wait, they get two; if not, they only get one. The ability to delay gratification is associated with positive life outcomes, such as better academic performance, lower rates of substance use, and healthier body weights. Possible reasons for improvements in the delaying gratification include higher standards of living, better-educated parents, improved nutrition, higher preschool attendance rates, more test awareness, and environmental or genetic changes. This development does not mean that children from the early 20th century were worse at delaying gratification and those from the late 21st will be better at it, however. Moreover, some other cognitive abilities, such as simple reaction time, color acuity, working memory, the complexity of vocabulary usage, and three-dimensional visuospatial reasoning have shown signs of secular decline.[15]

In a 2018 paper, cognitive scientists James R. Flynn and Michael Shayer argued that the observed gains in IQ during the 20th century—commonly known as the Flynn effect—had either stagnated or reversed, as can be seen from a combination of IQ and Piagetian tests. In the Nordic nations, there was a clear decline in general intelligence starting in the 1990s, an average of 6.85 IQ points if projected over 30 years. In Australia and France, the data remained ambiguous; more research was needed. In the United Kingdom, young children suffered a decline in the ability to perceive weight and heaviness, with heavy losses among top scorers. In German-speaking countries, young people saw a fall in spatial reasoning ability but an increase in verbal reasoning skills. In the Netherlands, preschoolers and perhaps schoolchildren stagnated (but seniors gained) in cognitive skills. What this means is that people were gradually moving away from abstraction to concrete thought. On the other hand, the United States continued its historic march towards higher IQ, a rate of 0.38 per decade, at least up until 2014. South Korea saw its IQ scores growing at twice the average U.S. rate. The secular decline of cognitive abilities observed in many developed countries might be caused by diminishing marginal returns due to industrialization and to intellectually stimulating environments for preschoolers, the cultural shifts that led to frequent use of electronic devices, the fall in cognitively demanding tasks in the job market in contrast to the 20th century, and possibly dysgenic fertility.[215]


Multidisciplinary research in the early 21st century suggests that ongoing human evolution could help explain the rise of certain medical conditions such as autism and autoimmune disorders among children. Autism and schizophrenia may be due to genes inherited from the mother and the father that are over-expressed and that fight a tug-of-war in the child's body. Allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders appear linked to higher standards of sanitation, which prevent the immune systems of modern humans from being exposed to various parasites and pathogens the way their ancestors' were, making them hypersensitive and more likely to overreact. The human body is not built from a professionally engineered blueprint, but rather is a system shaped over long periods of time by evolution with all kinds of trade-offs and imperfections. Understanding the evolution of the human body can help medical doctors better understand and treat various disorders. Research in evolutionary medicine suggests that diseases are prevalent because natural selection favors reproduction over health and longevity. In addition, biological evolution is slower than cultural evolution and humans evolve more slowly than pathogens.[216]

Anatomical diagram of myopia or nearsightedness.

A 2015 study found that the frequency of nearsightedness has doubled in the United Kingdom within the last 50 years. Ophthalmologist Steve Schallhorn, chairman of the Optical Express International Medical Advisory Board, noted that research has pointed to a link between the regular use of handheld electronic devices and eyestrain. The American Optometric Association sounded the alarm in a similar vein.[217] According to a spokeswoman, digital eyestrain, or computer vision syndrome, is "rampant, especially as we move toward smaller devices and the prominence of devices increase in our everyday lives." Symptoms include dry and irritated eyes, fatigue, eye strain, blurry vision, difficulty focusing, headaches. However, the syndrome does not cause vision loss or any other permanent damage. To alleviate or prevent eyestrain, the Vision Council recommends that people limit screen time, take frequent breaks, adjust the screen brightness, change the background from bright colors to gray, increase text sizes, and blinking more often. Parents should not only limit their children's screen time but should also lead by example.[218]

While food allergies have been observed by doctors since ancient times and virtually all foods can be allergens, research by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota found they are becoming increasingly common since the early 2000s. Today, one in twelve American children has a food allergy, with peanut allergy being the most prevalent type. Reasons for this remain poorly understood.[24] Nut allergies in general have quadrupled and shellfish allergies have increased 40% between 2004 and 2019. In all, about 36% of American children have some kind of allergy. By comparison, this number among the Amish in Indiana is 7%. Allergies have also risen ominously in other Western countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, the number of children hospitalized for allergic reactions increased by a factor of five between 1990 and the late 2010s, as did the number of British children allergic to peanuts. In general, the better developed the country, the higher the rates of allergies.[25] Reasons for this remain poorly understood.[24] One possible explanation, supported by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is that parents keep their children "too clean for their own good". They recommend exposing newborn babies to a variety of potentially allergenic foods, such as peanut butter before they reach the age of six months. According to this "hygiene hypothesis", such exposures give the infant's immune system some exercise, making it less likely to overreact. Evidence for this includes the fact that children living on a farm are consistently less likely to be allergic than their counterparts who are raised in the city, and that children born in a developed country to parents who immigrated from developing nations are more likely to be allergic than their parents are.[25]

A research article published in 2019 in the journal The Lancet reported that the number of South Africans aged 15 to 19 being treated for HIV increased by a factor of ten between 2010 and 2019. This is partly due to improved detection and treatment programs. However, less than 50% of the people diagnosed with HIV went onto receive antiviral medication due to social stigma, concerns about clinical confidentiality, and domestic responsibilities. While the annual number of deaths worldwide due to HIV/AIDS has declined from its peak in the early 2000s, experts warned that this venereal disease could rebound if the world's booming adolescent population is left unprotected.[219]

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that 46% of Australians aged 18 to 24, about a million people, were overweight in 2017 and 2018. That number was 39% in 2014 and 2015. Obese individuals face higher risks of type II diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and stroke. The Australian Medical Associated and Obesity Coalition have urged the federal government to levy a tax on sugary drinks, to require health ratings, and to regulate the advertisement of fast foods. In all, the number of Australian adults who are overweight or obese rose from 63% in 2014–15 to 67% in 2017–18.[220]


In Europe and the United States, the average age of the onset of puberty among girls was around 13 in the early 21st century, down from about 16 a hundred years earlier. Early puberty is associated with a variety of mental health issues—such as anxiety and depression, as people at this age tend to strongly desire conformity with their peers—, early sexual activity, substance use, tobacco smoking, eating disorders, and disruptive behavioral disorders.[19] Girls who mature early also face higher risks of sexual harassment. Moreover, in some cultures, pubertal onset remains a marker of readiness for marriage, for, in their point of view, a girl who shows signs of puberty might engage in sexual intercourse or risks being assaulted, and marrying her off is how she might be 'protected'.[21] To compound matters, factors known for prompting mental health problems are themselves linked to early pubertal onset; these are early childhood stress, absent fathers, domestic conflict, and low socioeconomic status. Possible causes of early puberty could be positive, namely improved nutrition, or negative, such as obesity and stress.[19] Other triggers include genetic factors, high body-mass index (BMI), exposure to endocrine-disrupting substances that remain in use, such as Bisphenol A (found in some plastics) and dichlorobenzene (used in mothballs and air deodorants), and to banned but persistent chemicals, such as dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), and perhaps a combination thereof (the 'cocktail effect').[20][221]

A 2019 meta-analysis and review of the research literature from all inhabited continents found that between 1977 and 2013, the age of pubertal onset among girls has fallen by an average of almost three months per decade, but with significant regional variations, ranging from 10.1 to 13.2 years in Africa to 8.8 to 10.3 years in the United States. This investigation relies on measurements of thelarche (initiation of breast tissue development) using the Tanner scale rather than self-reported menarche (first menstruation) and MRI brain scans for signs of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis being reactivated.[20] Furthermore, there is evidence that sexual maturity and psychosocial maturity no longer coincide; 21st-century youth appears to be reaching the former before the latter. Neither adolescents nor societies are prepared for this mismatch.[22][23][note 1]

In the United States, African girls on average enter puberty first, followed by those of Hispanic, European, and Asian extraction, in that order. But African-American girls are less likely to face the negative effects of puberty than their counterparts of European descent.[19]

Unlike the case of girls, pubertal onset in boys is more difficult to determine and study, though the literature suggests that boys, too, are reaching puberty earlier than their predecessors.[19] In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that American boys were reaching puberty between six months to two years earlier than a few decades before, with Africans entering that stage the soonest, at around nine years of age, followed by Caucasians and Hispanics, at about ten.[221]

Political views and participation

Generation Z is generally alike to Millennials on political and social issues.[222] Generation Z has been reported to be "progressive and pro-government", with 70% of Generation Z wanting the government to play a more active role in solving their problems according to a 2018 survey by Pew Research Center.[223] In contrast with older generations who mainly receive news from television news, Generation Z receives their information primarily from social media.[224] In recent years, in tandem with more members of Generation Z being able to vote in elections, the youth vote has increased.[225][226] Additionally, Generation Z challenges the left-ward trend in many countries, especially in Europe.[227]

Gen Z activists protest in San Francisco as part of the School strike for climate movement, 2019

Generation Z is more likely than older generations to support LGBT rights and gender equality, though in recent years support for LGBT rights has decreased sharply, particularly those aged 18 to 34.[228] In 2020, Gen Z American voters supported the Black Lives Matter movement to a greater extent (68%) than all registered voters (54%), and supported police much less (39%) than all registered voters (66%).[229] Generation Z views socialism more positively than previous generations, especially in the United States. More than half of Americans aged 18 to 29 viewed socialism positively, less than those who viewed capitalism positively in the same age group,[230] and almost two-thirds said they were likely to vote for a socialist candidate.[231][232] Members of Generation Z in G20 countries prefer a nationalist to a globalist approach to public policy by a clear margin: 51% to 32%.[233] In many European democracies, national-populist politicians and political parties tend to be the most popular among voters below the age of 40.[234] Generation Z is more likely than other generations to believe that climate change is real and to support climate change mitigation.[222][235]

One of the earliest political movements primarily driven by Generation Z was School Strike for Climate in the late 2010s. The movement saw millions of young people around the world, inspired by the activities of Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, protest for greater action on climate change.[236][237] In addition, the increase in youth turnout in the 2018 US midterm elections[238] has been attributed to a rebuttal of Donald Trump among young millennials and older members of Generation Z, as well as to the get out the vote initiatives that were part of the student-led gun violence protest March for Our Lives, which was described as "Generation Z's first social movement,"[239][240] though a field study by The Washington Post found that only about 10 percent of attendees of the protest were 18 years of or younger.[241]

Religious tendencies

A 2016 survey by Varkey Foundation and Populus conducted on 20,000 people aged 15 to 21 from twenty countries from all inhabited continents revealed that religious faith was influential to 42% of the respondents and inconsequential to 39%. There was, however, a clear difference between the age subgroups, with people 15-16 slightly more likely to value religion as important than those aged 19–21 (47% vs. 43%). Nevertheless, for 53%, religion influenced the values they hold. In order to further determine the role of religion in young people's lives, the pollsters asked them (1) whether or not it was important to them personally, (2) to their parents, (3) whether their parents' religion determined whom they would marry, and (4) if religion helps them decide whether to be friends with someone. Overall, religion was important to 11% of respondents. But there was a large gap among countries with Nigeria at one end (32%) and Germany and Japan at the other (3%). (See above.)[87]

The 2016 British Social Attitudes Survey found that 71% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 had no religion, compared to 62% the year before. A 2018 ComRes survey found that slightly more than one in two of those aged 18 to 24 reported a positive experience with Christians and Christianity. Two-thirds of the same age group have never attended church; among the remaining third, 20% went a few times a year, and 2% multiple times per week. 12% of respondents aged 18 to 24 agreed with the claim that Christians were a bad influence on society, compared to just over half who disagreed. For comparison, 14% of those aged 25 to 34 agreed. In all, 51% of Britons disagreed with the same while 10% agreed. Results from the 2018 ComRes survey were released a day after the Church of England announced it was going to establish more than a hundred churches, mainly in urban areas, to attract new followers.[242]

Globally, religion is in decline in the Euro-American countries but is growing in the rest of the world.[243] Although the number of atheists, agnostics, and people not affiliated with organized religion continues to grow in Europe and the United States, their percentage of the world population is falling because of their comparatively low fertility rate (1.7).[244] In general, the growth or decline of a given religion is due more to age and fertility rather than conversion.[243][245] Besides the level of education and income, how religious a woman is determines how many children she will bear in her lifetime. For example, in the cities of the Middle East, women who supported Sharia law had a 50% fertility advantage over those who opposed it the most at the turn of the century.[245] According to the World Religious Database, the proportion of the human population identifying with a religion increased from 81% in 1970 to 85% in 2000 and is predicted to rise to 87% in 2025. In addition, the Catholic Church has gained 12% additional followers between 2000 and 2010, mainly from Asia and Africa.[245] In 2018, Muslims had a median age of 23, Hindus 26, Christians 30, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated 34, and Jews 36. For comparison, the median age of the global population was 28 in 2018. Overall, Christians have a fertility rate of 2.6, and Muslims 2.9. Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion.[243] Meanwhile, the expansion of secularism will slow in Europe as the 21st century progresses.[245]

But religion can grow even in otherwise secular societies.[245] For example, in Israel, the ultra-Orthodox Jews comprised just about five percent of the nation's primary schoolchildren in 1960, but by the start of the 21st century, one-third of Jewish first graders in Israel came from this religious sect.[246] Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women in Israel had on average 7.5 children compared to their more mainstream counterparts with just over two in the early 2000s.[245] In Europe, immigration from the Middle East and Africa is an engine of religious growth. Children of immigrants tend to be about as religious as their parents and consider their religion to be a marker of their ethnic identity, thereby insulating themselves from the secularizing forces of the host society. The other engine is comparatively high fertility and religious endogamy. In France, a white Catholic woman had half a child more than her secular counterparts in the early 2000s; in Spain, that number was 0.77.[245] In the Netherlands, the youngest villages belong to Orthodox Calvinists,[245] who comprised 7% of the Dutch population by the early 2000s.[246] In Austria, the number of people below the age of 15 who were Muslims rose past the 10%-mark in the first decade of the 21st century. In the United Kingdom, over 90% of Muslims married other Muslims by the turn of the millennium, and it is well known that children born into an interfaith marriage tend to be less religious than their parents. Interfaith marriage is in fact a vehicle of secularization.[245] Ultra-Orthodox Jews comprised just 12% of the British Jewish population but three-quarters of Jewish births at the start of the 21st century. (This group is projected to make up the majority of Anglo-American Jews by 2050.)[246] In the United States, Catholicism will become the largest religion by 2040 despite considerable losses to secularization and conversion to Protestantism thanks in no small part to the fact that Latino Catholics had a fertility rate of 2.83 compared to the national average of 2.03 in 2003. Such religious demographic changes will bring about social and political ramifications later in the century.[245]

Risky behaviors

Adolescent pregnancy

American adolescents maintained their abstinence from alcohol and sexual intercourse through early adulthood.[9] More broadly, adolescent pregnancy was in decline during the early 21st century all across the industrialized world, due to the widespread availability of contraception and the growing avoidance of sexual intercourse among teenagers. In New Zealand, the pregnancy rate for females aged 15 to 19 dropped from 33 per 1,000 in 2008 to 16 in 2016. Highly urbanized regions had adolescent pregnancy rates well below the national average whereas Maori communities had much higher than average rates. In Australia, it was 15 per 1,000 in 2015.[247]

Alcoholism and substance use

2020 data from the U.K. Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed on a per-capita basis, members of Generation Z binged on alcohol 20% less often than Millennials. However, 9.9% of people aged 16 to 24 consumed at least one drug in the past month, usually cannabis, or more than twice the share of the population between the ages of 16 and 59. "Cannabis has now taken over from the opiates in terms of the most people in treatment for addiction," psychopharmacologist Val Curran of the University College London (UCL) told The Telegraph. Moreover, the quality and affordability of various addictive drugs have improved in recent years, making them an appealing alternative to alcoholic beverages for many young people, who now have the ability to arrange a meeting with a deal via social media. Addiction psychiatrist Adam Winstock of UCL found using his Global Drug Survey that young people rated cocaine more highly than alcohol on the basis of value for money, 4.8 compared to 4.7 out of 10.[14]

As of 2019, cannabis was legal for both medical and recreational use in Uruguay, Canada, and 33 states in the US.[248] In the United States, Generation Z is the first to be born into a time when the legalization of marijuana at the federal level is being seriously considered.[249] While adolescents (people aged 12 to 17) in the late 2010s were more likely to avoid both alcohol and marijuana compared to their predecessors from 20 years before, college-aged youths are more likely than their elders to consume marijuana.[13] Shortly before the full legalization of marijuana, the Government of Canada commissioned a study from health-policy analyst Fiona Clement and her colleagues at the University of Calgary in order to guide their regulations of the substance. After surveying the literature, Clement and her team found that pregnant women, teenagers, and people prone to mental illnesses are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of marijuana usage, including, among other things, impaired driving, higher risks of stroke testicular cancer, memory loss, and certain mental illnesses, such as psychosis. Compared to those who do not use cannabis or those who start after they reach 16 years, people who start before that age suffer from reduced cognitive functioning (including planning and decision-making skills), and higher levels of impulsivity.[248] According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, heavy use of marijuana is linked to low life satisfaction, mental health issues, and relationship problems; second-hand smoke could harm children and people with asthma. Heavy use is also correlated with schizophrenia, but a causal link has not been established. About one in ten marijuana users developed a substance use disorder, meaning they continue to use it even though it causes problems in their lives, and those who use it before the age of 18 are more likely to suffer from it.[250] A 2016 analysis of two longitudinal studies of twins (  and  ) reveals a noticeable decline in crystallized intelligence between pre-adolescence and late adolescence among marijuana smokers but no significant effects on IQ, as those can be attributed to other factors, namely genetics and familial environments conducive to low intellectual achievement and marijuana use initiation.[251]

Youth crime

During the 2010s, when most of Generation Z experienced some or all of their adolescence, reductions in youth crime were seen in some Western countries. A report looking at statistics from 2018 to 2019 noted that the numbers of young people aged ten to seventeen in England and Wales being cautioned or sentenced for criminal activity had fallen by 83% over the previous decade, while those entering the youth justice system for the first time had fallen by 85%.[252] In 2006, 3,000 youths in England and Wales were detained for criminal activity; ten years later, that number fell below 1,000.[9] In Europe, teenagers were less likely to fight than before.[9] Research from Australia suggested that crime rates among adolescents had consistently declined between 2010 and 2019.[253] In a 2014 report, Statistics Canada stated that police-reported crimes committed by persons between the ages of 12 and 17 had been falling steadily since 2006 as part of a larger trend of decline from a peak in 1991. Between 2000 and 2014, youth crimes plummeted 42%, above the drop for overall crime of 34%. In fact, between the late 2000s and mid-2010s, the fall was especially rapid. This was primarily driven by a 51% drop in theft of items worth no more than CAN$5,000 and burglary. The most common types of crime committed by Canadian adolescents were theft and violence. At school, the most frequent offenses were possession of cannabis, common assault, and uttering threats. Overall, although they made up only 7% of the population, adolescents stood accused of 13% of all crimes in Canada. In addition, mid- to late-teens were more likely to be accused of crimes than any other age group in the country.[254]

Adult-material viewing

A 2020 report by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC)—available only by request due to the presence of graphic materials—suggests that parents are either in denial or are completely oblivious to the prevalence of pornography viewership by adolescents, with three quarters telling researchers they do not believe their children consumed such materials. Meanwhile, teenagers are increasingly turning to pornography as a source of information on sexuality, especially what to do during a sexual encounter, as teachers tend to focus on contraception. Over half of the teenagers interviewed told researchers they had viewed pornography, though the actual number might be higher due to the sensitivity of this topic. While parents generally believe adolescents who view pornography for pleasure tend to be boys, surveys and interviews reveal that this behavior is also common among girls. Most teenagers encounter pornography on a dedicated website, but an increasing number watch it on social media platforms such as Snapchat and WhatsApp. Many told researchers they felt anxious about their body image and the expectations of their potential sexual partners as a result of viewing, and their concerns over violent behavior. About one-third of the U.K. population watches these films, according to industry estimates. This report came as part of an ill-fated attempt by the U.K. government to introduce age verification to pornographic websites.[255]

Family and social life


A man rides a multi-seated bicycle with two children (2007). Research suggests that Western parents in the early 21st century were spending much more time on childcare than their predecessors.[256]

Sociologists Judith Treas and Giulia M. Dotti Sani analyzed the diaries of 122,271 parents (68,532 mothers, 53,739 fathers) aged 18 to 65 in households with at least one child below the age of 13 from 1965 to 2012 in eleven Western countries—Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Slovenia—and discovered that in general, parents had been spending more and more time with their children. In 1965, a mother spent on average 54 minutes on childcare activities each day whereas one from 2012 spent almost twice as much 104 minutes. Among fathers, the amount of time spent on childcare roughly quadrupled, from 16 minutes in 1965 to 59 in 2012. Parents of all education levels were represented, though those with higher education typically spent much more time with their children, especially university-educated mothers. France was the only exception. French mothers were spending less time with their children whereas fathers were spending more time. This overall trend reflected the dominant ideology of "intensive parenting" the idea that the time parents spend with children is crucial for their development in various areas and the fact that fathers developed more egalitarian views with regards to gender roles over time and became more likely to want to play an active role in their children's lives.[256]

In the United Kingdom, there was a widespread belief in the early 21st century that rising parental, societal and state concern for the safety of children was leaving them increasingly mollycoddled and slowing the pace they took on responsibilities.[257][258][259] The same period saw a rise in child-rearing's position in the public discourse with parenting manuals and reality TV programs focused on family life, such as Supernanny, providing specific guidelines for how children should be cared for and disciplined.[260]

According to Statistics Canada, the number of households with both grandparents and grandchildren remained rare but grew in the early 21st century. In 2011, five percent of Canadian children below the age of ten lived with a grandparent, up from 3.3% in the previous decade. This is in part because Canadian parents in the early 21st century couldn't (or believe they couldn't) afford childcare and often find themselves having to work long hours or irregular shifts. Meanwhile, many grandparents struggled to keep up with their highly active grandchildren on a regular basis due to their age. Because Millennials and members of Generation X tend to have fewer children than their parents the Baby Boomers, each child typically receives more attention from his or her grandparents and parents compared to previous generations.[261]

Romance and marriage

According to a 2014 report from UNICEF, some 250 million females were forced into marriage before the age of 15, especially in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Problems faced by child brides include loss of educational opportunity, less access to medical care, higher childbirth mortality rates, depression, and suicidal ideation.[21][262]

In Australia, it was reported in 2017 that growing numbers of older teenage boys and young men were avoiding romantic relationships altogether, citing concerns over the traumatic experiences of older male family members, including false accusations of sexual misconduct or loss of assets and money after a divorce. This social trend—Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW)—is an outgrowth of the men's rights movement, but one that emphasizes detachment from women as a way to deal with the issues men face. "Both sexes have different challenges; we've lost sight of that. We're stuck in a gender war and it's harming our children," psychologist Meredith Fuller told[263]

Children and parenthood

In line with a fall in adolescent pregnancy in the developed world, which is discussed in more detail elsewhere in this article, there has also been a reduction in the percentage of the youngest adults with children. The Office for National Statistics has reported that the number of babies being born in the United Kingdom to 18 year old mothers had fallen by 58% from 2000 to 2016 and the amount being born to 18 year old fathers had fallen by 41% over the same period.[264] Pew Research reports that in 2016, 88% of American women aged 18 to 21 were childless as opposed to 80% of Generation X and 79% of millennial female youth at a similar age.[265]

A 2020 survey conducted by PensionBee in the United Kingdom found that about 10% of non-parents aged 18 to 23 were considering not having children in order to be able to retire earlier. Those in the arts and those in the income bracket £25,001 to £55,000 were most likely to say no to having children.[266]

Use of information and communications technologies (ICT)

Use of ICT in general

Schoolchildren using a laptop computer (2008). Generation Z was one of the first generations to have widespread access to the Internet at an early age.
High schoolgirls taking a group photo (2016). Twenty-first-century youths are highly reliant on their mobile devices.

Generation Z is one of the first cohorts to have Internet technology readily available at a young age.[267] With the Web 2.0 revolution that occurred throughout the mid-late 2000s and 2010s, they have been exposed to an unprecedented amount of technology in their upbringing, with the use of mobile devices growing exponentially over time. Anthony Turner characterizes Generation Z as having a "digital bond to the Internet", and argues that it may help youth to escape from emotional and mental struggles they face offline.[4]

According to U.S. consultants Sparks and Honey in 2014, 41% of Generation Z spend more than three hours per day using computers for purposes other than schoolwork, compared with 22% in 2004.[268] In 2015, an estimated 150,000 apps, 10% of apps in Apple's App Store, were educational and aimed at children up to college level,[269] though opinions are mixed as to whether the net result will be deeper involvement in learning[269] and more individualized instruction, or impairment through greater technology dependence[270] and a lack of self-regulation that may hinder child development.[270] Parents of Gen Zers fear the overuse of the Internet, and dislike the ease of access to inappropriate information and images, as well as social networking sites where children can gain access to people worldwide. Children reversely feel annoyed with their parents and complain about parents being overly controlling when it comes to their Internet usage.[271]

A 2015 study by Microsoft found that 77% of respondents aged 18 to 24 said yes to the statement, "When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone," compared to just 10% for those aged 65 and over.[272]

In a TEDxHouston talk, Jason Dorsey of the Center for Generational Kinetics stressed the notable differences in the way that Millennials and Generation Z consume technology, with 18% of Generation Z feeling that it is okay for a 13-year-old to have a smartphone, compared with just 4% for the previous generation.[273][274][275] An online newspaper about texting, SMS and MMS writes that teens own cellphones without necessarily needing them; that receiving a phone is considered a rite of passage in some countries, allowing the owner to be further connected with their peers, and it is now a social norm to have one at an early age.[276] An article from the Pew Research Center stated that "nearly three-quarters of teens have or have access to a smartphone and 30% have a basic phone, while just 12% of teens 13 to 15 say they have no cell phone of any type".[277] These numbers are only on the rise and the fact that the majority own a cell phone has become one of this generation's defining characteristics. Consequently, "24% of teens go online 'almost constantly'."[277]

A survey of students from 79 countries by the OECD found that the amount of time spent using an electronic device has increased, from under two hours per weekday in 2012 to close to three in 2019, at the expense of extracurricular reading.[32]

Psychologists have observed that sexting—or the transmission of sexually explicit content via electronic devices—has seen noticeable growth among contemporary adolescents. The older the teenager, the more he or she participates in sexting. Besides some cultural and social factors such as the desire for acceptance and popularity among peers, the falling age at which a child receives a smartphone may contribute to the growth in this activity. However, while it is clear that sexting has an emotional impact on adolescents, it is still not clear how it precisely affects them. Some consider it a high-risk behavior because of the ease of dissemination to third parties leading to reputational damage and the link to various psychological conditions including depression and even suicidal ideation. Others defend youths' freedom of expression over the Internet. In any case, there is some evidence that at least in the short run, sexting brings positive feelings of liveliness or satisfaction. However, girls are more likely than boys to be receiving insults, social rejections, or reputational damage as a result of sexting.[16]

Digital literacy

Despite being labeled as 'digital natives', the 2018 International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS), conducted on 42,000 eighth-graders (or equivalents) from 14 countries and education systems, found that only two percent of these people were sufficiently proficient with information devices to justify that description, and only 19% could work independently with computers to gather information and to manage their work.[6] ICILS assesses students on two main categories: Computer and Information Literacy (CIL), and Computational Thinking (CT). For CIL, there are four levels, one to four, with Level 4 being the highest. Although at least 80% of students from most countries tested reached Level 1, only two percent on average reached Level 4. Countries or education systems whose students scored near or above the international average of 496 in CIL were, in increasing order, France, North Rhine-Westphalia, Portugal, Germany, the United States, Finland, South Korea, Moscow, and Denmark. CT is divided into four levels, the Upper, Middle, and Lower Regions. International averages for the proportions of students reaching each of these were 18%, 50%, and 32%, respectively. Countries or education systems whose students scored near or above the international average of 500 were, in increasing order, the United States, France, Finland, Denmark, and South Korea. In general, female eighth-graders outperformed their male counterparts in CIL by an international average of 18 points but were narrowly outclassed by their male counterparts in CT. (Narrow gaps made estimates of averages have higher coefficients of variation.)[278] In the United States, where the computer-based tests were administered by the National Center for Education Statistics,[6] 72% of eighth-graders said they searched for information on the Internet at least once a week or every school day, and 65% reported they were autodidactic information finders on the Internet.[278]

Use of social media networks

The use of social media has become integrated into the daily lives of most Gen Zers with access to mobile technology, who use it primarily to keep in contact with friends and family. As a result, mobile technology has caused online relationship development to become a new generational norm.[279] Gen Z uses social media and other sites to strengthen bonds with friends and to develop new ones. They interact with people who they otherwise would not have met in the real world, becoming a tool for identity creation.[271] The negative side to mobile devices for Generation Z, according to Twenge, is they are less "face to face", and thus feel more lonely and left out.[280]

Focus group testing found that while teens may be annoyed by many aspects of Facebook, they continue to use it because participation is important in terms of socializing with friends and peers. Twitter and Instagram are seen to be gaining popularity among members of Generation Z, with 24% (and growing) of teens with access to the Internet having Twitter accounts.[281] This is, in part, due to parents not typically using these social networking sites.[281] Snapchat is also seen to have gained attraction in Generation Z because videos, pictures, and messages send much faster on it than in regular messaging. TikTok has gained increasing popularity among Gen Z users, surpassing Instagram in 2021.[282] Speed and reliability are important factors in members of Generation Z's choice of social networking platform. This need for quick communication is presented in popular Generation Z apps like Vine and the prevalent use of emojis.[283]

A study by Gabrielle Borca, et al found that teenagers in 2012 were more likely to share different types of information than teenagers in 2006.[281] However, they will take steps to protect information that they do not want being shared, and are more likely to "follow" others on social media than "share".[284] A survey of U.S. teenagers from advertising agency J. Walter Thomson likewise found that the majority of teenagers are concerned about how their posting will be perceived by people or their friends. 72% of respondents said they were using social media on a daily basis, and 82% said they thought carefully about what they post on social media. Moreover, 43% said they had regrets about previous posts.[285]

A 2019 Childwise survey of 2,000 British children aged five to sixteen found that the popularity Facebook halved compared to the previous year. Children of the older age group, fifteen to sixteen, reported signs of online fatigue, with about three of ten saying they wanted to spend less time on the Internet.[99]

Effects of screen time

Two children on their electronic devices (2011). Screen time can be addictive, take away time for other activities, diminish mental activities, and curb the development of social skills.

In his 2017 book Irresistible, professor of marketing Adam Alter explained that not only are children addicted to electronic gadgets, but their addiction jeopardizes their ability to read non-verbal social cues.[286]

A 2019 meta-analysis of thousands of studies from almost two dozen countries suggests that while as a whole, there is no association between screen time and academic performance, when the relation between individual screen-time activity and academic performance is examined, negative associations are found. Watching television is negatively correlated with overall school grades, language fluency, and mathematical ability while playing video games was negatively associated with overall school grades only. According to previous research, screen activities not only take away the time that could be spent on homework, physical activities, verbal communication, and sleep (the time-displacement hypothesis) but also diminish mental activities (the passivity hypothesis). Furthermore, excessive television viewing is known for harming the ability to pay attention as well as other cognitive functions; it also causes behavioral disorders, such as having unhealthy diets, which could damage academic performance. Excessive video gaming, on the other hand, is known for impairing social skills and mental health, and as such could also damage academic performance. However, depending on the nature of the game, playing it could be beneficial for the child; for instance, the child could be motivated to learn the language of the game in order to play it better. Among adolescents, excessive Internet surfing is well known for being negatively associated with school grades, though previous research does not distinguish between the various devices used. Nevertheless, one study indicates that Internet access, if used for schoolwork, is positively associated with school grades but if used for leisure, is negatively associated with it. Overall, the effects of screen time are stronger among adolescents than children.[7]

Research conducted in 2017 reports that the social media usage patterns of this generation may be associated with loneliness, anxiety, and fragility and that girls may be more affected than boys by social media. According to 2018 CDC reports, girls are disproportionately affected by the negative aspects of social media than boys.[287] Researchers at the University of Essex analyzed data from 10,000 families, from 2010 to 2015, assessing their mental health utilizing two perspectives: Happiness and Well-being throughout social, familial, and educational perspectives. Within each family, they examined children who had grown from 10 to 15 during these years. At age 10, 10% of female subjects reported social media use, while this was only true for 7% of the male subjects. By age 15, this variation jumped to 53% for girls, and 41% for boys. This percentage influx may explain why more girls reported experiencing cyberbullying, decreased self-esteem, and emotional instability more than their male counterparts.[288]

Other researchers hypothesize that girls are more affected by social media usage because of how they use it. In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, researchers discovered that while 78% of girls reported making a friend through social media, only 52% of boys could say the same.[289] However, boys are not explicitly less affected by this statistic. They also found that 57% of boys claimed to make friends through video gaming, while this was only true for 13% of girls.[289] Another Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2015, reported that women are more likely to use Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram than men. In counterpoint, men were more likely to utilize online forums, e-chat groups, and Reddit than women.[289]

Cyberbullying is more common now than among Millennials, the previous generation. It is more common among girls, 22% compared to 10% for boys. This results in young girls feeling more vulnerable to being excluded and undermined.[290][291]

According to a 2020 report by the British Board of Film Classification, "many young people felt that the way they viewed their overall body image was more likely the result of the kinds of body images they saw on Instagram."[255]

See also


  1. ^ More broadly, contemporary human females are evolving to reach menarche earlier and menopause later compared to their ancestral counterparts. See human evolution from the Early Modern Period to present.


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Further reading

External links