Most Gen Z have 'success-oriented mindset,' but expect worst to happen in life: study

Rosie Fraser/Upsplash
Rosie Fraser/Upsplash

Though the majority of Gen Zers have a success-oriented mindset and hope to achieve a lot in the next 10 years, more than half say they tend to expect the worst to happen, according to a new study.

A new report from the Barna Group and the Impact 360 Institute, Gen Z, Volume 2: Caring for Young Souls and Cultivating Resilience, found that, when asked if they feel they have been successful thus far in life, three-quarters of young people ages 13–25 (77%) agree. Nearly all (91%) agree they hope to achieve a great deal over the next 10 years. 

While three in four (73%) agree that their perspective on life tends to be positive, more than half say they tend to expect the worst to happen (56%). About one-third agrees with both statements.

“2020 will leave an imprint on this generation for sure,” Brooke Hempell, senior vice president of research at Barna Group, said while unveiling the data last week. “While it's affected many of us, it matters more to this generation because it actually really is shaping how they think and how they see the world and interact with the world.”

Hempell said that Gen Z is “guarded, and appropriately so,” adding: “They have learned to face the rollercoasters of life and they have seen generations before them go through many disruptive experiences. This has taught Gen Z to wait before they act.”

“This could be a really good thing for Gen Z,” she added, “especially in a year like 2020. They are developing a sense of agency in the world, wanting to press forward and achieve things. They have drive — but drive could be good or bad in many cases. So are they driving forward, or are they being driven? That is an important distinction to make.”

Barna found that about two in five Gen Zers are either “internally or externally pressured,” with one-third (31%) categorized as “internally pressured” and one-quarter (25%) as externally pressured.”

Those who are internally pressured always or usually feel: “pressure to be successful” (56%) and “a need to be perfect” (42%), while those who are externally pressured always or usually feel: “judged by older generations” (42%) and “pressured by my parents’ expectations” (39%).

About one in four Gen Zers meet the criteria for empowered (25%) or anxious (26%).

“Pressures are not all bad. In some cases, they can absolutely lead to anxiety and fear — but pressure can also be a shaping form,” Hempell said. “Just like a diamond, it’s a lump of coal to start with, but pressure, when applied, creates something beautiful in the end.”

“The hope for Gen Z,” she continued, “is that we can help them manage these pressures; we can see these ambitions in them and help shape them and move them toward good. … The hope is that a year like this (2020), which was full of pressure, actually will help shape and refine them into people who know their identity in God and are ready to grow in that.”

Gen Z: Volume 2 collected data from 1,503 U.S. teens and young adults ages 13 to 21 between June 15 and July 17, 2020.

The study also found that moral relativism is the “majority opinion” of Gen Zers, with two-thirds of teens and young adults (65%) agreeing that “many religions can lead to eternal life,” compared to 58% of teens and young adults surveyed in 2018 for Gen Z: Volume 1.

Additionally, 31% of teens and young adults “strongly agree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society,” compared to just 25% in 2018. Another 43% agree “somewhat.”

“That means literally moral reality ... moral truth shifts as society shifts,” Jonathan Morrow, director of cultural engagement and student discipleship at Impact 360 Institute, said during the unveiling of the study. “That will have devastating consequences for everyone trying to live according to God's good design and flourish as He designed them to function in this world as image-bearers.”

Just 10% of young people surveyed “strongly disagree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society.” Morrow described this minority as a group of “convictional people in Gen Z who actually think that objective truth and morality really exist and don't change depending upon people's desires or feelings or society over time, but there is an ultimate reference point, there is an ultimate anchor to moral and spiritual reality.”

“But the simple fact of the matter is, moral relativism hasn't just crept into the worldview of Gen Z,” he stressed. “It is now the majority opinion.”

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