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Gen Z on Gen Z: COVID-19’s impact on the journey to adulthood

Gen Z on Gen Z: COVID-19’s impact on the journey to adulthood

By Kat Chertkow
Associate Strategist

As a an elderly member of Generation Z living through a pandemic (1996 was a better time), I’ve been doing a lot of virtual catching up with friends and family. I graduated from a Masters program last December with an MS Integrated Marketing and Communications and was fortunate enough to be hired as an Associate Strategist at Barkley soon after in January. As my client work functions online, I’ve been able to work from home over the past few months, but not everyone has been so blessed. I’ve heard from classmates who graduated with me just months ago on how difficult it is to find a job right now, let alone get an interview. My little brother told me what it was like to have a virtual graduation from high school just last week, and spoke on how unsure he is about if going to college is really worth it in our current environment. While we’re all in the same generation, the experiences and concerns we have during this unique time in history are distinct from one another. 

When an opportunity came my way to write about this subject, I jumped at the chance. My colleagues and I wanted to look at Gen Z through unique life stages to better uncover concerns and needs that have developed in this unprecedented time. 

We broke Gen Z down into five unique life stages to better analyze the differences in situation and experience.

High School

As schools have closed, students in high school have lost opportunities to socialize with friends: the challenges of isolation have impacted their ability to express themselves and test personality traits against people who are in the same stage of life. They’re worried about what the future holds and what implications for college applications and visits will be. Low-income students have been hit particularly hard as school serves as more than just an educational purpose for them. Additionally, once-in-a-lifetime milestones have been taken away or delayed—there’s a major need for a shared sense of identity and a desire to feel connected to their peers. 

Post-High School 

Our cohort of newly graduated students face a period of uncertainty and volatility. There are choices to make: is post-secondary education for me? Should I pursue a trade school? Start a business? This stage of life is marked by exploration, specifically within one's own self in discovering their way forward. They are wondering if a stable job is a reality after seeing massive losses from even stereotypically safe career paths. There’s this larger question that has presented itself: what’s my purpose, and how do I find it in such an unpredictable situation?


For those that choose to pursue post-secondary education, this is the first stage in the learning of independence. For the first time in many young adults’ lives, the weight of their success rests primarily on their own shoulders. With the shut-down of college campuses, many students moved back home, at times leaving their belongings behind. This group has returned to a family environment to resume a role as child or sibling, in addition to carrying out their studies in an often chaotic environment. There is worry about when or if their campuses will re-open, as well as concerns around the quality of the online learning they’re receiving. 

Graduating Class

The graduating class of 2020 was supposed to be donning caps and gowns to walk across a stage in front of thousands. Instead, many were told graduation was cancelled or were offered a digital alternative. It’s hard to recreate an event that marks such an important transition. Their future is uncertain in a variety of ways and many are having to delay personal autonomy for greater security. New graduates are most concerned about finding employment: as the pandemic impacts every industry differently, there’s potential that a resulting shift in the value of their degree has taken place as well (eg. aviation, hospitality, etc). 

Graduated & Working

Those who have graduated with enough time to find jobs that function remotely have been the least affected in relation to the other groups. Their day-to-day hasn’t changed much outside of not going into the office. As this group is primarily focused on prosperity building and trying to set up for future goals, the main concern here is a setback in their timeline to success. Concerns for this group still exist in line with larger societal trends, but they majoritively center on upward mobility and future opportunities. 

As each of these groups adjust to new situations, challenges and obstacles, brands have an opportunity to build upon existing relationships or create new connections by solving pressing needs. These needs have been identified, alongside more detailed concerns and impacts by lifestage in our latest report: COVID-19’s Impact on the Journey to Adulthood: Needs and concerns of Generation Z. Check it out for detailed information on each life stage, concerns and needs, as well as guardrails for ideating around meaningful brand solutions. 




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Barkley US

Jun 10, 2020

filed under:
COVID-19,Gen Z,Millennial,Modern Consumer


Brand Culture, COVID-19, Marketing, Millennial, Modern Consumer, Purpose, Travel, Whole Brands
Consumer Products, COVID-19, Education, Finance, Healthcare, Media, Millennial, More, Purpose, Restaurant, Retail, Scratch, The Useful Brand, Travel
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