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Is Gen Z the Most Pessimistic Generation?

a woman in a hat holding a coffee cup - is Gen Z the most pessimistic generation?
Every generation faces its own set of challenges. And while the specific dynamics in our world may shift, our human needs for love and connection do not.

A few weeks ago, I read a news headline stating that Gen Z is the most disillusioned and pessimistic generation alive. According to research by the Gallup-Walton Family Foundation, Gen Zers — those between the ages of 12 and 27 — report the poorest mental health of any living generation. They wrestle with loneliness, depression, and anxiety about the future at higher levels than other recent generations.

After reading the headline, I asked my 11-year-old if it described her. “Do you have low expectations for your future?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she answered matter-of-factly. “The world is probably going to end.”

My daughter is not typically given to a gloomy disposition, so I asked her what led to that belief. She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s just how it is.” She isn’t online, nor does she watch the news, so this attitude is coming primarily from the people in her life and her own observations.

In contrast, as the daughter of Baby Boomers I felt from a young age that the world was my oyster. I believed I would go to college, have a fulfilling job, own a home and car, get married and have children. When I mentioned my dreams to the adults in my life, they affirmed I could easily achieve all these things and more. I worked to get good grades and later a respectable paycheck, but I was bolstered by optimism and the belief that none of my dreams were beyond reach.

Reason to fear

Curious as to why Gen Z is the most pessimistic generation, I did some research. According to one article, Gen Z’s loneliness, depression and anxiety is fueled primarily by a lack of in-person relationships.

“Partly by choice and partly out of necessity during the pandemic, Gen Z socializes online, rather than in person, far more than previous generations. That’s not healthy, experts say.

Spending time with people releases certain chemicals in the brain and boosts our mood. ‘Those things don’t happen in the same way when you’re texting,’ said Bonnie Nagel, a behavioral neuroscientist at Oregon Health & Science University. ‘And those types of hormones are really important for wellbeing.’”

I have experienced this. I was recently telling my counselor about feeling alone in some of the daily struggles of life. She asked me how often I was getting together with a friend … in person. I realized many of my relationships take place primarily through texting or over social media. Even I, two generations above my Gen Z counterparts, have experienced the emotional depletion digital socialization can cause.

Another factor in Gen Z’s pessimism is the current state of the world in which they live. They have observed and experienced natural disasters, wars, political tensions, unemployment, debt, and lack of affordable living. They don’t expect to achieve the same levels of success as their parents, who may even be encouraging them to have lowered expectations in these turbulent times.

Hope for the generations

Every generation faces its own set of challenges. Each of us has been impacted by the generations who have gone before us. Years before the pandemic, Millennials were being hailed as the loneliest generation (and that loneliness hasn’t subsided). Gen X is still known for being a generation of “latchkey kids” who witnessed their parents’ divorces.

While the specific dynamics in our world may shift, our human needs for love and connection do not. At any age, pressing into community, particularly through in-person relationships, is a remedy for loneliness and anxiety. Another constant is God’s salvation plan through Jesus. Being reborn into God’s family through belief in Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross and resurrection from the dead is the solution to our greatest problems, including sin and death. As believers we always have reason to expect good things.

Our unchanging God offers us hope amidst the challenges each generation faces. He has a good plan that cannot be thwarted. He is faithful to every generation. Psalm 100:5 proclaims: “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” As His followers we have been called to declare His mighty acts to all generations so they may set their hope in God and obey Him.

I felt a little sad when I heard my daughter’s blunt evaluation of her feelings about the future. But it led to a great conversation about where our hope comes from. Someday the world will end, but we are promised that God’s Word never will. Better yet, we will spend eternity with Him in glory.

I’m praying for Gen Z. Studies have shown this generation to be honest and willing to voice their emotions; they want their lives to matter. I have known them to care deeply and exhibit a heart for justice. And like the generations before, they are here for such a time as this.

Copyright 2024 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved. 

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About the Author

Suzanne Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.

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