29 Jun Gen-Z and its Remnant
Just over a year ago, we wrote a couple of pieces on “generational responses to social events and circumstances.” Specifically, the first of the two was about Gen-X’s surrender to emotional malaise and nihilism, while the second was about the culture clashes between the four predominant generational cohorts today (Baby Boom, Gen-X, the Millennial Generation, and Gen-Z) and the imperative for Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers to combine their resources and collective will to rescue Gen-Z from the fate of its parents’ cohort, thereby rescuing the nation’s future as well. We concluded the latter with the following:
Each generation, as a collective, has a set of shared characteristics that give it unique opportunities. As we noted yesterday (and above), the Baby Boom generation was optimistic but hopelessly naïve. Generation-X was timid, defensive, and very much “broken.” The Millennial Generation – also known as the “Baby Boom echo” because it is comprised primarily of the children of Baby Boomers – was, like its parents’ generation, optimistic and naïve, although much more the latter than the former. They bought the cultural revolution’s more fantastical ideas hook, line, and sinker. Finally, there is Generation-Z, Gen-X’s kids, whose attitudes are not yet fully formed and whose destiny is still undetermined….
The good news is that [because] Generation-Z is not yet fully formed in its attitudes and destiny…there is still hope for it to break the cycle and not adopt the softness and resignation of its parents’ generation. There are signs that Gen-Z is doing just this, breaking the cycle on its own, fighting back and adopting more traditional, pre-Boomer social attitudes. But, of course, there are also signs that it is moving in the opposite direction.
Time will tell, obviously, what happens to Gen-Z. But if the past is prologue, then those who wish to break the cycle and thus break the ability of the ruling class to manipulate the country class to suit its own social curiosity should be aware that there is an opportunity here, but it is narrow. If this opportunity is missed, another likely won’t be available for another 25 years or more.
In the fifteen months since we wrote those words, we have learned a great deal more about Gen-Z and the particular struggles it faces. And while there is good news and bad news, the bad news is pretty darn bad. Consider, for example, the following:
In 2021, suicide and homicide rates for children and young adults ages 10 to 24 in the US were the highest they’ve been in decades, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Suicide and homicide were the second and third leading causes of death for this age group, both causing about 11 deaths for every 100,000 people ages 10 to 24. The homicide rate for this age group in 2021 was the highest it’s been since 1997, and the suicide rate was the highest on record, since 1968.
Suicide rates surpassed homicide rates for this age group in 2010 and have continued rising for the past decade. But a large spike in homicide rates during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic brought the rates for both types of violent death together for the first time in a decade.
For children ages 10 to 14, however, a large gap remained. The suicide rate in 2021 was twice as high as the homicide rate, according to the CDC report.
Earlier research has found that there has been a steady increase in the number of children who are seen in emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, and nearly half don’t get the follow-up care they need.
Some analysts – the inimitable Jonathan Haidt, for example – think that, in large part, social media and emotional fragility are to blame for Gen-Z’s massive mental health problems:
Mr. Haidt’s research, confirmed by that of others, shows that depression rates started to rise “all of a sudden” around 2013, “especially for teen girls,” but “it’s only Gen Z, not the older generations.” If you’d stopped collecting data in 2011, he says, you’d see little change from previous years. “By 2015 it’s an epidemic.” (His data are available in an open-source document.)
What happened in 2012, when the oldest Gen-Z babies were in their middle teens? That was the year Facebook acquired Instagram and young people flocked to the latter site. It was also “the beginning of the selfie era.” Apple’s iPhone 4, released in 2010, had the first front-facing camera, which was much improved in the iPhone 5, introduced two years later. Social media and selfies hit a generation that had led an overprotected childhood, in which the age at which children were allowed outside on their own by parents had risen from the norm of previous generations, 7 or 8, to between 10 and 12.
That meant the first social-media generation was one of “weakened kids” who “hadn’t practiced the skills of adulthood in a low-stakes environment” with other children. They were deprived of “the normal toughening, the normal strengthening, the normal anti-fragility.”
And while Haidt is almost certainly correct, there is also a significant institutional-failure component to Gen-Z’s serious and growing problems:
The math and reading performance of 13-year-olds in the United States has hit the lowest level in decades, according to test scores released today from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold-standard federal exam.
The last time math performance was this low for 13-year-olds was in 1990. In reading, 2004.
Performance has fallen significantly since the 2019-2020 school year, when the coronavirus pandemic wrought havoc on the nation’s education system. But the downward trends reported today began years before the health crisis, raising questions about a decade of disappointing results for American students.
The federal standardized test, known as NAEP, was given last fall, and focused on basic skills. The 13-year-olds scored an average of 256 out of 500 in reading, and 271 out of 500 in math, down from average scores of 260 in reading and 280 in math three years ago.
Achievement declined across lines of race, class and geography.
As you may have noted above, before delving into the seemingly endless bad news, we suggested that there is good news as well. And there is – but it’s not especially comforting good news.
The good news, in short, is that most of the difficulties plaguing Gen-Z are fixable. More to the point, they’re fixable without the creation of a massive new bureaucracy or the introduction of a massive set of rules, regulations, and various other government endeavors.
The catch, of course, is that they will require concerted and largely uncoordinated effort on the part of the tens of millions of us who have a significant impact on the lives of young people. It will require tens of millions of us doing “Isaiah’s Job” and taking care of those closest to us – our children, grandchildren, neighborhood children, etc.
We know that with this suggestion we’re preaching to the choir, and that most (or all) of you are already doing everything within your power to ensure that the Gen-Zers in your lives are fortified as well as possible against the dangers that afflict their generation. And to you, we offer our gratitude, our compliments, and our support.
What we as a community should consider, however, is how we might pool our resources and talents in ways that advance our support and consolation to a slightly different “remnant” than that to which we’ve grown accustomed.