Generation Z: Net Zero Future

Young people in Switzerland see their own future increasingly bleak, according to a new study. They worry about pensions, the climate and the consequences of the Ukraine war. Partnership, friends and family become less important.

Climate change is just one of the crises facing Generation Z.

Walter Bieri / Keystone

They are self-confident, demanding, lazy and call in sick at the slightest ailment – these are some of the clichés that are being spread all over the country about Generation Z. However, surveys and studies that have appeared in recent months paint a picture of a crisis-ridden and insecure generation.

In the recently published CS Youth Barometer 2022 by GfS Bern, for the first time less than half of the young respondents in Switzerland stated that they were confident about the future. The value has been falling for years. Confidence is also tending to decline in the other countries surveyed.

Hope is fading

Percentage of respondents who are rather confident about their own future

Generation Z is also pessimistic about the future of our society: Less than 20 percent are confident. The young Swiss are even more pessimistic here than their colleagues in the USA, Brazil and Singapore.

The social future is also viewed more negatively

Percentage of respondents who are rather confident about the future of society

More than half of those surveyed in Switzerland state that they have no fixed plans for their own life due to the economic situation. This value has also increased significantly in recent years. After peaking during the Corona crisis in 2020, it has now fallen back somewhat. The goal of being able to lead a life that is just as good as that of their parents has meanwhile taken a back seat.

Economic situation prevents fixed plans

Percentage of respondents for whom the following plans for the future apply

Standard of living like parents

To take responsibility

too uncertain economic situation for firm plans

The greatest concern of young people in Switzerland is currently the future of old-age provision, followed by the climate crisis. Concerns about the war in Ukraine are particularly evident in relation to the increased cost of petrol and oil and the security of energy supplies.

AHV beats climate change

Percentage of respondents who rank a problem among the five most important in Switzerland

Since 2010, the study has been examining the sensitivities of young people aged 16 to 25 in Switzerland, the USA, Brazil and Singapore. She comes to the conclusion that the Ukraine war concerns young Swiss people far less than young people who live geographically much further away from the conflict. Just under half of the Swiss state that they are very or rather very concerned about the war, in the other countries it is between 60 and 70 percent.

“Generation Z grew up in a completely different context than the generation before them,” says study author Cloé Jans about the results. While Generation Y grew up in a sheltered environment apart from 9/11, the following generation had the economic and euro crisis, Donald Trump’s presidency, Brexit and now the climate crisis, the Corona crisis and the Ukraine war in experienced a formative phase of life.

“During this period, various certainties were questioned. Optimism was high in the 1990s. Francis Fukuyama was already talking about the end of history and the victory of western democracy as a form of society. That is now a long way off,” says Jans. The crises always had a strong economic dimension. “As a young person, you naturally ask yourself whether you are even needed in the labor market and when the next crisis will come.”

According to Jans, the fact that old-age provision is number 1 in Switzerland shows how highly politicized the topic is in Switzerland. But it also shows that in Switzerland, compared to other countries, there are fewer immediate existential concerns. «In the USA, the issues of violence and personal security are number one, in Brazil corruption. Fears in this area have a very direct impact on young people’s lives, while retirement provision is more about a longer-term perspective.”

The relationship is only as important as the sports club

If you ask the Swiss Generation Z about the most important social elements to which they feel they belong, their circle of friends and family are at the top. In recent years, however, both have lost much of their importance.

Close environment becomes less important

Percentage of respondents who feel they belong to the following social units

society of the continent

Partnerships are even more affected: less than half of those surveyed count a relationship among the most important social elements in their lives. This means that the love (or at least the strong bond) of Generation Z is about as important as the sports club, the climate movement or more abstract sizes such as the democracies of the West or their own continent, Europe.

Study author Jans is surprised by these clear trends. “This is a clear change in the social life of young people.” This had already started before Corona, so the pandemic cannot be held solely responsible for the disintegration of the immediate environment. “Explanations could be digitization and social networks. You are entertained, you can choose your own online community and meet like-minded people.» That costs time that is then lacking for the family, cultivating friendships or a partnership.

Gen Z is mentally stressed

The crises are also leaving their mark on the mental health of young people. More than half of women under the age of 30 enter the CSS Health Study 2022 of the Sotomo Institute that they are not doing well mentally or that their emotional state is mixed. For men under 30 it is more than 40 percent, here the difference to the older generations is particularly clear.

Stress at work is given as the most important reason for poor mental health. According to the study, young women in particular feel under pressure to always be healthy and productive. This is also reflected in the number of sick days: Young people rate their state of health as better than older people, but state that they have taken more sick days.

The generation difference is also particularly pronounced when it comes to sick leave due to psychological stress. While only 8 percent of those over 65 state that they have ever stayed away from work due to mental stress, the figure is already 44 percent among those under 30.

the Helsana emotion study and the GfS survey «How are you?» also come to the conclusion that young people feel particularly stressed, exhausted and depressed. Also the Study “Youth in Germany 2022” comes to similar conclusions. Based on this evidence, it can be assumed that “quiet quitting”, demands for a work-life balance and sick leave are not the whims of a young, demanding generation, but phenomena that have arisen as a result of a real increase in stress.

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