Gen Z’s pessimism fueled by depression, social media use: Expert

May 22, 2024

(NewsNation) — The generational differences in world views between Gen Z and older generations are being driven by higher rates of depression and excessive social media use among today’s youth, according to an expert on generational trends.

Jean Twenge, author of “Generations,” said Tuesday on NewsNation’s “On Balance” that more young adults today express pessimism about their future and a lack of hope for the world compared to previous generations at the same age.

“Gen Z is just a lot less connected to institutions, whether that’s religion or government,” Twenge said. “There’s a tremendous amount of pessimism among young adults today.”

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According to polls, Gen Z is less than half as likely as baby boomers to say patriotism, belief in God and having children are “very important” to them. Only 40% of those ages 18-29 view capitalism positively, compared to 73% of those 65 and older. Forty-four percent of those between 18 and 29 have a positive impression of socialism, versus 28% of seniors.

Twenge cited rising rates of depression and the negative impacts of social media as key factors behind Gen Z’s gloomy outlook. Depression, she noted, doesn’t just affect emotions but also cognitive perception of the world.

Twenge argues that greater individualism and focus on the self, which has grown out of technology, has some upsides like promoting equality.

However, she says it also has major downsides, including disconnection from others, less respect for institutions, a lack of shared social rules/norms and having nothing bigger than the self to believe in.

She states that this extreme individualism and lack of larger belief systems “is not a good formula for mental health and optimism.”

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While some have blamed lowered standards and too much coddling, Twenge disagreed those were the primary culprits, noting previous generations like Millennials remained optimistic during their youth despite similar societal trends.

“If you think about things like how technology has made our lives easier and how parents are probably nicer to their kids now than they used to be, sure,” she said. “But … nobody’s getting together with their friends anymore in person, so they get depressed.”

To address the problem, Twenge recommended restricting young children and teens from social media, which she said could help them develop more in-person relationships and become “a lot less depressed and pessimistic.”

“We’ve got our work cut out for us trying to give Gen Z some purpose and some hope,” Twenge said.