Generation Z, or ‘zoomers’, have had a lot to contend with: the economic fallout of the Great Recession, entering early adulthood during the Covid-19 pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine, record inflation, and ominous warnings about monkeypox and impending recessions.
The world has changed almost beyond recognition since they were born in the boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and climate change ensures it will continue to do so.
What will policy makers need to know about their lives to respond properly to the challenges this generation faces as they come of age as independent adults in a — hopefully — post-Covid Ireland?
Enter the next phase of the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, which has been following a core group of thousands of young people, born in and around 1998, since they were nine years old.
Over the course of more than a decade and a half of research, the national longitudinal study conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has looked at this group’s experiences of education, their physical and mental health and their employment prospects, to name but a few topics.
As they turned 20 right before the onset of Covid-19, many of the young people featured in GUI reported spending a lot of time daily online, experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety, and were most likely to live at home with their parents.
They were also affected by the pandemic, with Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns curtailing their employment prospects, studies, and their fun.
As the young people taking part approach their mid-20s, the next phase of the study will be undertaken directly by the CSO and the Department of Children for the first time.
The next interview, scheduled for 2023 at age 25, will aim to capture core information on a wide range of their life experiences, including their emotional wellbeing, relationships, civic engagement, and their concerns and aspirations.
So, what do we need to know about being a young adult in a post-Covid Ireland? Research published on Wednesday by the ESRI, which reviews the findings to date of the GUI study, has a few key recommendations.
- It wants 25-year-olds to be asked if they have been affected by periods of unemployment and precarious employment. They should also be asked what education options, if any, they pursued after school, and if they were happy with their choice;
- In terms of physical fitness, the group should also be asked if they are healthy and what aspects of their current lifestyle could risk their health in the future;
- The young adults should also be asked about their mental health, to see if it is declining or improving as they leave their adolescence behind;
- The ESRI also recommends they be asked if they have positive relationships with family, friends, and any significant others, and if it is common for them to experience discrimination in their daily lives;
- It also recommends asking if their experience of the pandemic changed them in any way.
Aisling Murray, co-author of the report, said: “The timing of the Covid-19 pandemic with the transition into the labour market for the young adults of Cohort ’98 means that up-to-date information on their progress is especially important.
“This report in advance of the next phase of Growing Up in Ireland brings together researchers, policy-makers, and young adults to assemble a ‘tool kit’ of measures to reflect the lived experiences of 25-year-olds in a — hopefully — post-Covid Ireland.”
Children’s minister Roderic O’Gorman is to launch the GUI research review on Wednesday, which he described as a “vital and scientifically robust resource” to inform the questions participants will be asked.
“The pilot for this wave of data collection will commence at the end of May by the Central Statistics Office, in advance of the main wave of data collection taking place in 2023,” he said.
“We are looking forward to hearing from Growing Up In Ireland participants all over the country to hear about how their lives are going post-pandemic and to gather important information about what life is like for 25-year-olds today, in areas such as work, learning, health, relationships, and financial and emotional wellbeing.”