Australia Markets closed

A 40-year study of teens finds Generation Z is unlike any past generation -- here's what they're all about

Chris Weller
Teens selfie red carpet

Today's teens are in no hurry to grow up, a new study finds.

Contrary to teenagers of past generations, Generation Z -- broadly defined as people born between 1995 and the mid-2000s -- aren't drinking alcohol, having sex, driving, or going out without their parents nearly as much.

According to psychologists Jean Twenge and Heejung Park, who analysed 8.3 million responses across seven surveys of teens from 1976 to 2016, today's 18-year-olds act more like 15-year-olds from years past.

The findings largely back up Generation Z as less reckless and more socially isolated than generations prior. Here's what they're all about.

They don't crave the open road.

In the late 1970s, nearly 90% of teens had gotten their driver's licence by the 12th grade. By 2014, survey data showed the rate had fallen to roughly 73%.

Twenge and Park's findings suggest this downward trend correlates with many other Gen Z trends, given that driving offers the freedom to date, go to parties, and get to work.

Dating is far less frequent.

Since 1976, there have been major declines in 12th-graders saying they go on dates. When the first survey was issued, about 85% of high-school seniors said they go on dates; by 2014, about 58% did.

The internet, while a possible contributing factor, was not ruled the deciding factor since the declines began before large percentages of the population came online, the researchers noted.

They don't seek independence from their parents.

In 1976, 12th-graders went out without their parents roughly three times per week. By 2014, kids of the same age were going out just over twice per week. The trend held for eighth- and 10th-graders, with declines of almost a full day for each age group.

Fewer are having sex.

With less drinking, dating, and going out unsupervised, the researchers weren't surprised to find kids were having less sex than they used to.

In 1991, 54% of high school students said they'd had sex at least once, but by 2015 the rate had dropped to 41%. Similar to the trends for drinking alcohol, the declines were greatest among ninth-graders and smallest for 12th-graders.

They're waiting longer to get their first job.

Perhaps the clearest sign teens aren't growing up is that fewer are getting paying jobs.

In the mid-1970s, you could expect 75 to 80% of 12th-graders to have had at least one job. Forty years later, chances are slightly higher than a coin flip. Around 55% said they'd worked for pay.

They spend a lot of time on their phones.

What teens are doing more frequently: spending time online, primarily through their phones.

In a recent Atlantic article, Twenge wrote that such intense usage without regulation could be contributing to the increase in suicide and mental illness among teens today.

'The average teen spends about two and a half hours a day on electronic devices,' she wrote. 'Some mild boundary-setting could keep kids from falling into harmful habits.'