NOVEMBER 19, 2023
Kids these days.
For as long as there have been generations, there have been older generations griping about younger ones — often about their seemingly weaker work ethic.
But a new analysis shows there may actually be some truth to that old adage, at least when it comes to young adults in Generation Z.
Jean Twenge, a psychologist who studies generational differences, has spent years tracking the data provided by the Monitoring the Future survey, which annually records how high school seniors feel about a variety of topics, from their own daily habits to the state of the world.
Her look at the most recent survey shows that work ethic among 18-year-olds took a nosedive in 2021 and 2022, with the proportion of respondents saying they wanted to do their best in their job “even if this sometimes means working overtime” dropping to just 36% last year, from 53.74% in 2020.
“Gen Z really does have a work ethic problem,” Twenge wrote in her analysis of the data for her “Generation Tech” newsletter.
Gen Z is generally defined as those born between 1997 and 2012; they’re now about 11 to 26 years old.
“It’s really unusual to see changes that sharp in this kind of research,” said Twenge, who is also the author of “Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents ― and What They Mean for America’s Future.”
The percentage of high school seniors who said they expect their chosen work to be extremely satisfying also dropped sharply over the last two years, to about 20.4%, down from 26.4% in 2020.
The survey also asked: “If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you’d like for the rest of your life, would you want to work?”
70% of respondents said yes, down from 78% in 2020.
The data show that some social media trends — from quiet quitting to lazy girl jobs and other viral moments of young people questioning the traditional approach to work — are speaking to a broader shift occurring among Gen Z, Twenge said.
Those social media conversations capture “something about those very pronounced declines,” she said, though she added that cultural conversations about work-life balance have been going on for decades.
The reconfiguration could also be happening across age groups, not just among teenagers.
“There’s the possibility that the pandemic really was a big reset of attitudes around work in many ways,” she said. “Generations happen because cultures change. It’s not that young people wake up one day and decide to be a certain way.”
But drawing harsh conclusions about the differences between age groups can be counterproductive, she cautioned.
“Is this a decline in work ethic, or an increase in the desire for work-life balance? It depends on your perspective,” she said.
Gen Z’s other shifting sentiments
It’s not just work-life balance that’s shifting in the eyes of Gen Z. They’re questioning other traditions, too, including going to college.
A data analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that, among certain groups, Gen Zers were more likely than not to believe that going to college wasn’t a worthwhile investment.
Less than half of some Gen Z groups — those who went to college but didn’t graduate, women, and Black and Hispanic adults — believed the lifetime financial benefits of college would outweigh the costs, according to the Fed’s 2022 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking.
That doesn’t mean they’re not investing elsewhere: a new study from Fidelity found that Gen Zers lead the way when it comes to women investing in the stock market — more women in Gen Z are investing than in any other generation group, the study showed.