No offense, but today’s youth sounds super lame—and this is a millennial writing this. New research published in Child Development analyzed 40 years of research and found that Generation Z, or those born after 1994, the year Pulp Fiction was released, are less likely to date, drink and have sex than generations born in the 1970s after after. What’s more, higher volumes of Gen Z-ers don’t have jobs (down 21 percent) or drivers licenses (down 15 percent). So what’s the deal here?
“The developmental trajectory of adolescence has slowed, with teens growing up more slowly than they used to,” Jean Twenge, lead author on the study said. “In terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did.”
Researchers posit the cultural shift has little to do with heavier workloads or extracurricular activities. Instead, they insist it can be attributed to parents becoming more “invested” in their teens’ lives as modern families are smaller, meaning more attention (and money) is being spent on each individual child. Researchers also predict longer life expectancy has influenced teens to act younger for longer. Indeed, past research suggetes that young people cheat because they’re afraid of growing up and accepting adult responsibility.
Authors examined seven nationally representative surveys of U.S. adolescents in the last 40 years. The surveys accounted for 8.4 million kids between ages 13 and 19 and how they engage with adult activities. These trends weren’t impacted by gender, race, region of the country or socioeconomic status, leading researchers to generalize these changes, labeling them “a broad cultural shift.”
“Today’s teens may go to fewer parties and spend less time together in person, but when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly—on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook,” Twenge wrote in The Atlantic. “Those not invited to come along are keenly aware of it.”
In the early 1990s, more than half of high schoolers–54 percent–were having sex. By 2015, that number dropped to 41 percent. As a result, teen pregnancies have declined. The shift in alcohol consumption is even more drastic, dropping 59 percent among eighth graders, nine percent among college students and seven percent for young adults. In April, we reported today’s teens prefer video games over sex and that, in addition to waning interests in sex, fewer teens are smoking, though more than ever are vaping.
Technology may seem to be a likely culprit–younger generations are more likely than ever to text nude images–but the authors were careful to note that they did not identify a strong link between teens’ prudish behavior and smartphones. They also claim much of this behavior became prevalent before internet use among teens became a way of life.
Instead, researchers believe Generation Z is simply a product of their environment. Twenge told Business Insider that during the mid-20th century, people adopted what’s known in the field as a “fast-life strategy.” Lifespans were shorter and work was more imperative at the time, so kids were forced to grow up quick without much supervision. By 2000, the U.S. had taken up a “slow-life strategy,” where people live longer, resources became more abundant and people started raising their children more closely, encouraging kids to stay kids longer.
While most would argue most of these burgeoning trends among modern youth are positive, Twenge stresses, above all else, that parents hop off the helicopter and encourage their children pursue independence. “If kids are working or getting involved in their community, they’ll have less idle time to fill with their smartphone.”