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How to HopeCommentary on Culture and University Life

Dear Friend,

Capita, a think tank dedicated to the flourishing of families and young children in particular, has written recently on what to expect from Gen Z as they become parents in light of contemporary sociocultural realities. In a presentation geared toward institutions and businesses titled "Are You Gen Z Ready?," CEO Joe Waters and Openfields Senior Consultant Meghan Chaney anticipate how common characteristics of Gen Z (social justice-oriented digital natives) will inform their future consumption and expectations. Given Capita's primary objective is to equip institutions to respond to the needs of parents and children, they also speak to how burgeoning demographic shifts will significantly alter the level of social support, available resources, and political clout Gen Z parents can bring to the table over the next twenty years.

Parents Will Be Far Outpaced By Non-Parents

Waters writes that according to US Census Bureau analysts, "older adults will significantly outnumber children under 18 for the first time in US history [by 2030] and therefore become the dominant and most influential segment of society." Gen Z will also make up a smaller portion of the overall population than previous generations of parents. By 2060, "there will be 17 million Gen Z mothers, but they will only represent slightly more than 4% of the US population...when you add their partners, Gen Z parents will represent less than 10% of the total population." With the number of parents significantly outpaced by the number of older adults and non-parents, Waters anticipates that these changes will "dilute the power" of parents to affect policymaking and public services, while "systems and institutions that serve [a shrinking constituency] will compete for resources." Furthermore young parents, as opposed to older parents with teenage and adult children, will have "less political power to drive reform on issues like climate change and child care." This grave foretelling would seem to indicate that Gen Z, the so-called "snowflake generation," is in for a rude awakening.


The "Snowflakes" Are Unsurprised

How could a generation too fragile to tolerate any difference of opinion possibly fare when it comes to real world troubles? From Waters' and Chaney's observations about Gen Z characteristics, it seems that Gen Z has been prepared from childhood for such circumstances. Subjected to the Great Recession and COVID-19 economic disasters, as well as worldwide terrorist attacks and decadent political systems, Gen Z is used to the unsettled world they have inherited. Where older generations may not comprehend the burden of growing up in a hyperconnected, hyperreal world – where "culture and meaning" flow from ever-centralizing social media hubs rather than the literary canon or a local pub, and "relationships" are nebulously defined between individuals with self-made "identities" – they may also underestimate how such an upbringing could help Gen Z advocate for themselves. Waters and Chaney describe Gen Z as "worried, cautious, risk-averse" and "slower to 'grow up,'" but also as "financially pragmatic and frugal" and "independent thinkers" – the upside of having experienced the economic hardship as during the Great Recession and declining trust in unreliable traditional institutions.

Prepared For A Time Such As This

As we have written here previously, Gen Z has a lot to contend with when it comes to relationships, mental health, technology, and general social decline. And yet, absent the identity-shaping and stabilizing realities of an intact family life, shared culture, and trustworthy political, civic, and religious institutions, Gen Z is in many ways far better prepared to weather the demographic storms to come. While the chaos of their upbringing does not always bode well for their mental health or relationships, it is reasonable to expect that Gen Z parents with young children will find ways to adapt to these new circumstances and advocate for themselves in spite of the demographic shifts to come. Their tech-savvy will serve them well in creating new forms of work in person and online; their desire for financial stability and concern for the environment could lead to frugality and sustainable, wallet- and earth-friendly practices. Their distrust for traditional institutions will free them to found new and better ones, or to rediscover the bedrock principles upon which such institutions ultimately flourish. Gen Z parents will be imperfect as every generation is imperfect – they will learn along the way, grappling with questions their parents also grappled with, but in new contexts. If Waters' predictions are right, Gen Z parents are in for some massive social adjustments. Fortunately, they are prepared for a time such as this.


Alain Oliver
Executive Director

The How to Hope series is written in collaboration with LFN staff. 


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