Discussions about ageism are often focused on negative stereotypes and discrimination against older people, but young people also experience negative attitudes and assumptions based on their age. This research sought to enrich the insights from the Commission’s 2021 What’s age got to do with it? report by providing a detailed understanding of how young people in Australia perceive their age and generational identity, the factors that shape these views, and how they relate to the perceptions older generations hold of young people.
This report presents the findings from a week-long online discussions held in February 2021 with 12 participants aged between 18 and 25. The online community sessions revealed four key themes as priorities for the cohort commonly referred to as ‘Gen Z’ or ‘Generation Z’.
The young adults in the study have high expectations for themselves when it comes to financial management and believe they are trying their best in a difficult economic environment. They report becoming frustrated and disillusioned when long-term goals such as buying a house seem out of reach. Some participants see their age cohort turning to smaller life pleasures and indulgences to alleviate this disappointment, manage their mental health, and enjoy life in some way. This is sometimes perceived by older generations and others their age who are still pursuing these long-term goals as being lazy, impulsive, and materialistic.
Social conduct and work ethic
Our participants have a strong sense of social responsibility and want to make a positive impact in the world. They see their generation as being engaged in social issues such as the environment, mental health, human rights, and equality. Many choose to invest time and effort in pursuing their passion and interests, and reject the negative stereotypes of young people as lazy and unmotivated. However, some are disappointed by their generation’s work ethic and see their age cohort as being complacent and lacking drive.
Social media and technology
The young people in the study have mixed feelings about the significant role social media and technology play in their lives. They acknowledge the many positives of social media such as its ability to provide a platform for people to express themselves and to bring people together to create positive change. But they also see how it is used to divide people, promote consumerism, and perpetuate idealised and unrealistic standards.
For the young people in the study, mental health is a standout challenge for their generation. Many see their generation as affected by poor mental health, symptoms of which may be mistaken for laziness or hypersensitivity, while some participants feel actions such as self-care are misinterpreted as being self-indulgent and selfish. Despite acknowledging mental health as a pressing issue for their age cohort, participants are also proud of their generation’s progress on openly discussing mental health and reducing the stigma surrounding it.
Stereotypes and assumptions based on age affect people of all ages and across the lifespan. From this study we discovered a diverse range of behaviours, attitudes, and beliefs among young people that extend far beyond the prevailing stereotypes and assumptions. With this report, we aim to deepen our understanding of the experiences and perspectives of young adults in Australia, and to provide a foundation upon which further research may be built.
We express our gratitude to the young adults who participated in the study and who so willingly shared their views and experiences.