This worldwide pandemic has brought with it public health crises, global economic upheaval and widespread uncertainty.
Even though the acute threat of COVID-19 will pass, things will not return completely to normal. The virus and the economic tumult that accompanies it are transformative events and will likely change lifestyle and financial choices for every generation.
If we want to prepare for what our world will look like when things settle—weeks, months or even a year from now—it’s worth considering how our perspectives will change from this, and how each generation might live their lives differently.
Baby Boomers will go online
Baby Boomers or “Boomers,” classified as people born from 1946 to 1964, have grown more comfortable with technology over recent years. A 2019 Pew Research study found that 68% of Baby Boomers own smartphones and 52 percent own tablets. That technology use is about to leap upward.
COVID-19 is forcing people to stay home in unprecedented numbers, including limiting even essential activities such as grocery shopping. This is perhaps most true for Baby Boomers who are considered more susceptible to the virus’ threat than younger generations.
Many Boomers will likely try many technology-enabled services for the first time, including grocery delivery, direct-to-consumer goods and in-home subscription entertainment. Many will continue using these services after the pandemic passes as they will be won over by the convenience, quality and, for some, necessity of these businesses.
In addition, as COVID-19 has taken travel and in-person visits from friends and family off the table, more Boomers are using communication tools like Skype, FaceTime and Zoom to say connected – even those who were averse to doing so before the virus’ spread. As Baby Boomers grow more accustomed to this new way of staying in touch and socializing, they are likely to find it a comfortable and convenient way to connect with those they care about and continue using these platforms.
Gen-X business leaders will look for their swan song
Generation-X, or those born between 1965 and 1980, is known for being overlooked. Gen-Xers were far more likely than previous generations to grow up in households of divorce or with two working parents, earning the nickname “latchkey kids” by often being home alone, which helps explain their strong independence.
Business leaders from this generation have also now gone through three crushing economic events in their careers, including 9/11 and the Dot Com Bubble in 1999, the Great Recession in 2008 and the current disaster.
Many Gen-Xers will likely come out of all this thinking long and hard about what they really want to be doing for the remaining few chapters of their life, I expect a lot of voluntary and involuntary career changes. They will be like the battle-tested generals coming off their most important deployment with an eye to one last victory before they ride off into the sunset.
However, it’s unlikely this vision for their future will feature a beach in Florida or an RV. Instead, they’ll be thinking about how they can pass on the torch. If they’re business owners, they may start looking at succession plans and life for the business beyond them. They and others with valuable experience on the front lines will shift to helping others through teaching, writing, coaching and speaking. While this may lead to a brain drain for companies, these Gen-Xers will look to new and different ways to offer their expertise and talent, likely a safe distance from the battlefield.
Millennials will gravitate towards stability
The millennial label is often misapplied to the youngest adults. In reality, the term encapsulates those born between 1981 to 1996, with the oldest millennials about to turn 40. Millennials have been defined by three seismic events: 9/11, during which nearly all of them were under the age of 18; the 2008 Great Recession, when many were either gaining a foothold in their careers or getting ready to graduate; and now the current COVID-19 situation as they enter the prime of their career.
Millennials are often labeled as job-hoppers who rarely stay with one employer for long. This is attributed in part to Millennials being less likely than other generation to feel engaged at work, according to Gallup. Many Millennials are motivated by purpose-driven work first and foremost and do not see a reason to be loyal to employers who no longer offer the promise or security of long-term employment.
Notably, this transient employment pattern is what helped create the gig economy.
Chasing the next best opportunity is a decent strategy during times of economic prosperity, which is all most Millennials have known along their early career path. However, the economic crisis COVID-19 will create will make the risks of that approach painfully apparent. This is a depression-era moment for a generation that did not value saving or delayed gratification to the same degree as previous generations.
It seems inevitable that Millennials will shift their priorities toward saving and stability, bucking the trend of a consumption-driven culture. They will also be more willing to trade maximum job satisfaction in exchange for more stability. Millennials who may have favored job hopping over networking and building strong work relationships may find they’ll have a longer uphill climb ahead as they seek employment.
Gen-Z will reevaluate college
Gen-Z comprises those born between 1997 and 2012. Like Millennials, Gen-Z is aging faster than we realize—the oldest ones graduated from college last year and a vast majority are preparing to enroll.
For many in Gen-Z, the economic challenges of COVID-19 will completely reframe their college decision. Some will see their college funds slashed due to collapsing assets, others will fear taking on excessive student loan debt in a recession shocked economy. What’s more is that many Gen-Zers have seen their millennial predecessors delaying buying a house and other major life events because of the crushing weight of their debts, making them less inclined to want to follow the same path.
In 2018, only 14% of parents were willing to take on over $75,000 in student loans for their children’s college. That number will be lower for both parents and kids after this crisis is over.
While the most prestigious schools will always draw attendees at any cost, private universities with less cache will struggle in this new reality. Not only will public colleges become more desirable, but as students are introduced to distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak, colleges may seek to expand their online offerings to offer lower cost education and more free online content.
These shifts, in addition to more resounding calls to reduce student loan debt, are likely to finally burst the higher education bubble that has been expanding for years and many schools will close as a result.
With little warning, COVID-19 is changing everything about our lives – changes that are universal across generation. Although each generation will be affected differently, all will be forced to acclimate to a new normal. People of all ages will see their lives disrupted and experience new hardship. Perhaps this will compel us to put aside generational divisions and come together to navigate these new realities together.