America’s Baby Boomers had the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. For Gen X, it was the AIDS epidemic. More recently, the 2008 global financial crisis altered the outlooks and career trajectories of millennials around the world. Historical shifts ranging from the end of apartheid in South Africa to China’s one-child policy and economic boom have created a marked gap in the experiences of youths compared to older adults.
Each generation is shaped by the national and international events that take place during their formative years, when their identities and world views are still in flux. It now seems clear that the coronavirus pandemic will be a watershed moment in the lives of Gen Z.
But what kind of effect will the pandemic, and the accompanying slew of school closings, quarantines, and sky-high unemployment rates, have on today’s teenagers and young adults? The truth is that we don’t know yet. For much of the world, the Covid-19 pandemic is in its early stages, its ultimate impact on public health and the global economy still uncertain.