Is Gen Z Taking the Coronavirus Pandemic More Seriously Than Baby Boomers? New Study Says Maybe They Are by Dr. Anna McAlister, Endicott College

2 years ago

Is Gen Z Taking the Coronavirus Pandemic More Seriously Than Baby Boomers? New Study Says Maybe They Are

A recent survey from the Harris Poll reports that despite images of college students partying heartily, their generation, Gen Z, is perhaps taking COVID-19 more seriously than Baby Boomers and older adults.

I believe there is anecdotal evidence to support those findings and explains why. I regularly see adults (presumably Baby Boomers and older adults) flaunting the rules that are intended to keep everyone safe. In fact, I've witnessed several situations in grocery stores where teens are reminding their parents to follow the directional arrows or keep their distance from other shoppers. Certainly, on our campus, I think students are leading the way and faculty members are saying, "If they can do it, we can do it." Frankly, I think some of us were somewhat skeptical that students could rise to the occasion.

Also, much behavior around preventing COVID-19 has become strongly politicized, so there may be negative reactions to younger people's eagerness to comply in some circles. Personally, I see young adults showing great maturity in their behavior, which should be viewed as a contribution to public health, rather than a political statement.

Photo: Endicott College

I'm also not very surprised that the younger set is taking the lead since it's a given in the marketing world that it's easier for advertising and other strategic communicators to shape the habits of younger generations. Generations of marketers know that it's easier to work with young people and hope they will pass the messaging to their parents; campaigns for healthy eating, recycling and energy conservation often target children.

The dynamic is partly due to younger folks being used to being told what to do. They may be more receptive to messaging around the pandemic simply because they're accustomed to having their behavior directed by others.

There are other factors, as well. Younger folks are also more accustomed to having bad behavior called out on social media. They know they may have their photo taken or be recorded on video and publicly shamed if they act badly. There's a social pressure which can serve a positive purpose if it promotes behaviors that benefit public health.

It can be incredibly positive for younger people to inform behavior for multiple generations. Younger folks can set an example and older folks might be somewhat shamed into behaving.

Do I think it's possible that younger adults portrayed in the media as flaunting the COVID-19 rules are an exception to the rule? At face value, I think it's a mix. Traditionally, psychologists who have studied development have always asserted that young folks are high-risk takers whose executive functions are not yet fully developed leading them to largely ignore consequences.

Photo: Endicott College

This summer was an odd time; many young folks were actually forced to pause. Many lost part-time jobs, were unable to attend summer camp, had family vacations canceled, etc. During this time, they may have been able to focus on thinking through the likely consequences of those behaviors. It's possible they're viewing the pandemic and the risks/potential outcomes with a greater focus than usual.

Anecdotally, I will say I feared the worst and have been completely shocked (in a positive way) by what I'm seeing at Endicott College. I've had to eat my words! I expected the worst, but so far the vast majority of students are showing their very best behavior.

I think many students realize they have a lot of power and, ultimately, their behavior dictates (to a very large degree) whether or not we get to stay on campus. Most students do not want to go back home. So, the positive peer pressure is working, at least on campuses where a party culture is not dominant.

What do you think?

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This is so interesting.
Elisa Schmitz
In my experience, I have seen it both ways. I appreciate you sharing your perspective, Dr. Anna McAllister, Endicott College . Welcome to 30Seconds. We look forward to learning more from you!

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