The COVID Generation: The Defining Moment for Gen Z

Ellie is doing a Master’s in Climate Change: Environment, Science and Policy. She also did her undergraduate degree at King’s in History and International Relations. She has a keen interest in women’s participation in global politics, as well as environmental politics. 

[Featured Image: Two masked women stand in a public gathering. Source.]

When COVID-19 began to spiral out of control in the UK back in March, one thing became clear very quickly: this will be a key moment in history. Just as many Brits grew up learning about the Second World War and how it changed the world, future generations will learn about how we responded to the current pandemic. 

Similar to the Second World War, COVID-19 will leave a lasting imprint on society. Who knows how long masks and social distancing will continue to be a part of our daily lives? Much like those who endured the war, we’ll all be able to look back and tell our grandchildren what it was like for us. As a History grad, I joked with friends about how our messages and diaries could be used in the future as dissertation primary sources. 

But whilst COVID-19 has impacted us all in numerous ways, the profound effect the pandemic has had on Generation Z has been somewhat neglected. Of course, from a heath standpoint we have been extremely lucky, as long as we have no underlying health conditions, we have had a fairly good chance of surviving the virus. Thus, the impact on us is nothing in comparison to the thousands of tragic deaths. Yet, the psychological and possible future effects of the pandemic have been keenly felt by Gen Z.

Let’s face it, Generation Z has been given a crappy deal. We’ve been left to deal with the climate crisis, been given crippling student debt and will be lucky if we manage to buy any property before we’re 50. Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse for us, a global pandemic happened. 

But what impact has Coronavirus had on Gen Z specifically? The Guardian published an article in October which gave personal accounts from Gen Zs across the country. [1] I’ve combined their accounts with others that I’ve reached out to personally, and found some themes across their experiences:

Negative Mental Health Impacts and Loneliness

Gen Z in general is much more aware of the importance of mental health than previous generations have been. But the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have had a particularly negative effect on the mental health of many of them. A study by the Resolution Foundation found that adults aged 18-29 have had an 80% increase in mental health problems, which is a bigger increase than any other age group.[2] Many of the Gen Zs spoke about feeling “lonely” and unproductive. One recalled “I would often sit in the front room all day, doing nothing”, [3] whilst another commented “It felt like I was wasting away in my room every day”. 

Others who had pre-existing mental health issues, found them exacerbated by the pandemic. “It’s made my mental health worse which was unexpected, I think the daily death tolls and just general fear of getting COVID triggered that”, one explained. More than one of the people I spoke to had started therapy sessions over the course of the last year. 

Putting Life on Hold

Many of Gen Z who were in a transitionary stage of their lives, whether from school to university, university to work or otherwise, have been forced to postpone their life plans. If they have continued on with their plans, it’s been in a way that was completely different to what they’d hoped for. One 21-year-old commented: “I have pressed pause on my life, and although I’m dying to resume it, I don’t even know if there’s a play button there any more”. [4]

Gen Zs are in the stage of life when we’re supposed to be making the most of being young. This is the time when we’re supposed to be going to our first house parties; making friends and mistakes in fresher’s week; as well as enjoying the ups and downs that come with dating and relationships. Instead most of us have been spending an inordinate amount of time with our parents. Whilst we’re grateful for the closeness that’s fostered, we miss enjoying being young and are acutely aware that we will never get this time back. One Gen Z expressed: “I should be getting experiences and memories that will help me to progress in life. It’s really challenging waking up and doing nothing, while your future is ahead of you”. [5]

Worries About the Future

COVID-19 has forced Gen Z to grow up quickly. Those who were not political before have been forced to watch the news religiously in order to stay updated about the latest restrictions, and many have been wholly unimpressed by what they’ve seen. One 13-year-old stated they’d gone from “not thinking about politics at all before the pandemic to knowing the government doesn’t know what it’s doing”. [6]

Many have become anxious about the future in general. One explained how the COVID-19 pandemic had showed how “the life we know can change any second and we don’t always have control over it… nothing is guaranteed.” Whilst another expressed that “I think in the future it’s something that will still impact my anxiety just because now I just generally worry about pandemics”. 

But beyond that, a fundamental worry for Gen Z is the repercussions COVID-19 will have on their future prosperity. Several made reference to worries about “a world of mass youth unemployment”, with one pointing out that “there are going to be all this year’s graduates competing with last year’s and next year’s for a smaller number of jobs”. [7]

These worries are in no way unfounded. Young people have been found to be hit hardest in terms of employment by the pandemic, with youth unemployment set to hit levels way above the highest recorded since the early 1980s. [8] One Sage adviser reportedly said that the government have been focused on short term “firefighting” and failed to act upon “empirical data showing the specific risks to this generation”. [9]

This is not to mention the impact the pandemic has had on the education of Gen Z. With last year’s GCSE and A Level students having future plans derailed by the government’s decision to cancel exams and base grades on predictions, personally, there is no way I could have got into my current university that way. I can only imagine the disappointment and frustration they must have felt. In addition, an LSE survey found that a quarter of pupils did not have schooling or tutoring in the first lockdown. But it found that 75% of private school students had full days of teaching, compared with only 38% of state school students. [10] These educational disadvantages will have a profound impact on the future of a large proportion of Gen Zs.

Time for Reflection

Perhaps the only positive Gen Z experienced as a result of the pandemic is having an opportunity to think and reflect. Some commented on how they used the time “reconnect with my family” and took time to appreciate the things they were grateful for. “It has made me consider what others may not have which I take for granted (i.e. a roof over my head, a loving family) which has just increased my appreciation for what I have”, one Gen Z said.

Others thought deeply about themselves and their ambitions. One stated: “As someone who is naturally drawn to introspection, having more time alone during lockdown has been an incredibly valuable, albeit daunting experience.”

Another expressed: 

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I want in life, what my purpose is in life and even though I haven’t exactly figured it out it has allowed me to pause the social aspect of my life and focus on myself…We are used to a fast paced life and being stressed…but the lockdown did have quite a positive effect on me in that I enjoyed the slow paced life and alone time that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

In addition, for some it has provided them with an opportunity to reflect on the past and better themselves: “Without all this time by myself I probably wouldn’t have sought to get help with a couple of personal issues I have been struggling with for a few years”.

Therefore, the pandemic has provided some opportunities for personal growth. I think that the majority of Gen Z in the UK would agree that they have become stronger, if only for knowing that they have survived it thus far. 

But that doesn’t diminish the fact that Generation Z is struggling. Our mental health is declining, we’re missing out on important years for our development and the future has become an even more terrifying prospect than it already was. 

There is now some hope of a light at the end of the tunnel, with vaccines currently being   dished out to the population. But here in the midst of our third lockdown, much of the damage to Gen Z has already been done. From this point on, as a generation, we will be defined by the COVID-19 pandemic. 


[1] ‘Generation Z and the Covid pandemic: “I have pressed pause on my life”’, The Guardian, Tuesday 20 Oct 2020, (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/20/generation-z-on-covid-i-was-living-in-a-family-but-feeling-really-alone-pandemic).

[2] ‘UK risks creating lost “Covid generation” without extra support for young people, report warns’, The Independent, Thursday 08 October 2020, (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/coronavirus-generation-lost-young-people-support-report-b867557.html). 

[3] ‘Generation Z’, Guardian.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] ‘Scarred for life’, Guardian.

[10] ‘Generation Covid’ hit hard by the pandemic, research reveals’, BBC News, 26 October 2020, (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54662485).

References: 

‘Generation Covid’ hit hard by the pandemic, research reveals’, BBC News, 26 October 2020, (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54662485). 

‘Generation Z and the Covid pandemic: “I have pressed pause on my life”’, The Guardian, Tuesday 20 Oct 2020, (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/20/generation-z-on-covid-i-was-living-in-a-family-but-feeling-really-alone-pandemic). 

Scarred for life’: Sage experts warn of impact of Covid policies on the young, The Guardian, Tue 20 Oct 2020, (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/20/sage-experts-warn-of-impact-of-covid-policies-on-young-generation-z-harm-pandemic-coronavirus). UK risks creating lost “Covid generation” without extra support for young people, report warns’, The Independent, Thursday 08 October 2020, (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/coronavirus-generation-lost-young-people-support-report-b867557.html).

Leave a Reply