Wealth, work and happiness: the life goals of Gen Z

Wealth, work and happiness: the life goals of Gen Z

Key takeaways

  • Generation Z prioritize happiness at work, but want money too
  • Generation Z are happy to sacrifice WFH, if it means getting a raise
  • 1 in 3 Gen Zers prioritizes the happiness of others when it comes to career decisions
  • 57% of Generation Z say that protecting their mental health is their biggest challenge at work
  • 1 in 3 Gen Zers wants to be financially independent in the long run

What gets Gen Z out of bed in the morning? While much has been written about the generation currently exploring adulthood, their motivations still remain a mystery to some.

Having spent their formative years in a fog of economic turmoil, perhaps this generation can be forgiven for feeling cynical about capitalism. But have they abandoned the American Dream entirely?

After all, if their passion for side hustles is anything to go by, Generation Z certainly isn’t afraid of a bit of hard work. But do they believe their toil will translate into home ownership?

To find out, EduBirdie surveyed 2,000 members of Generation Z in the US. This is what their answers revealed:

Money vs happiness: an eternal dilemma

When it comes to life's big questions, few divide opinions like whether to prioritize money over one’s own happiness. But has Generation Z made up their mind about their American Dream?

37% of gen z want a job they enjoy

Our survey revealed that – surprise, surprise – today’s young adults are just as divided on that question as the rest of us. 37% said the most important thing was finding a job that they enjoyed, with 31% saying they preferred a job that paid well.

Others took a more idealistic stance, with 12% saying that they wanted a job that helped them maximize their impact on society. Meanwhile, 15% wanted a job they could depend on should the economy take another dive.

Generation Z: doing it on their own?

Have side hustles and gig platforms raised a generation of budding entrepreneurs? It turns out Gen Z has mixed opinions when it comes to the merits of being your own boss.

gen z is split between employment and flexibility

Overall, 52% of respondents said they preferred the old-fashioned method of having a full-time job. In contrast, 30% expressed a preference for being self-employed contractors, and 18% fancied starting a business.

Can you put a price on a raise?

In today’s complex economy, Gen Z aren’t short of choices when it comes to working habits. But which of these would they sacrifice if it meant getting paid more?

gen z would swap working from home if they got a raise

When presented with a multiple-choice hypothetical scenario, 41% said they would happily give up the option of working from home – once seen as the biggest prize of the pandemic – for more money.

Some were prepared to sacrifice part of their personal life too, with 37% saying they would give up their hobbies in order to make more money, and 34% saying the same about their social life.

And what about sacrifices in the workplace itself? It turns out that 1 in 5 of Gen Z would happily give up the more exciting parts of their job if it meant taking home more cash at the end of the month.

What matters most to Generation Z?

With direct access to Gen Z, we had the perfect chance to ask the big questions: just what do they value most when it comes to life decisions?

gen z value family and wellbeing over career

The most popular answer was family and relationships, with 69% of respondents citing it as one of their most important priorities. After that came health and well-being (at 62%) and financial stability (55%).

Less predictable answers included personal growth (25%), and travel and exploration (14%). Meanwhile, 9% said that spirituality was a major influence on their life decisions.

And what about the occasional perception of Gen Z being selfish? Our study suggests the truth is very different: with 1 in 3 prioritizing others over their happiness.

67% of gen z prioritize their happiness over others approval

Likewise, Generation Z also takes into account the needs of others when making their own career decisions, with 16% saying they prioritized their partner’s feelings, and 14% focusing on the approval of their family.

Perhaps Gen Z aren’t that different after all, then, when it comes to achieving the American Dream.

The poorest generation? Does Gen Z fear the future?

Having navigated a sluggish economy and difficulties with home ownership, Generation Z has plenty to be fearful about when it comes to their finances. So what impact has it had on their outlook?

55% of gen z say that financial instability is their biggest fear

More than half (55%) of respondents said that financial stability was their biggest fear, reflecting predictions that Gen Z is set to be the poorest generation compared to their recent predecessors.

Some had other fears about their lives, with 32% saying they fretted about not reaching their full potential and 26% worrying that they would not find a job that they enjoyed.

And how about more immediate challenges? Asked about their current worries, 57% of respondents said that their mental health was the biggest worry in their day-to-day lives.

57% of gen z say that mental health is their biggest challenge

Meanwhile, 48% said their biggest challenge was maintaining a good work-life balance, and 33% worried most about their finances. 

Aiming high? The wealth goals of Generation Z

What is the American Dream today? Despite the odds being stacked against them, Gen Z clearly isn’t giving up on the goal of home ownership – at least not yet.

home ownership is the immeadite financial goal for gen z

When asked about their financial goals, 29% of Generation Z respondents said that saving for a home was their immediate priority. 

On the other end of the spectrum, another 29% of respondents said that living in the here-and-now was more important, and 12% said they prioritized travel and other once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

in long term, gen z is focused on financial independence

On a longer-term horizon, though, the picture was slightly different. Asked about their life goals, 33% of respondents said they wanted to be financially independent

Still, there are signs that the economic hardships are taking their toll on Gen Z, with 16% saying their biggest long-term financial goal was to become debt-free.

Did having richer parents make a difference? Interestingly, our survey revealed one particularly crucial insight about the American Dream in the modern era.

gen z without wealthy parents want to become rich themselves

Overall, those without wealthy parents were more likely to say they wanted to become rich themselves than those who had already grown up with money.

Perhaps those luckier members of Generation Z are banking on a sizable inheritance to help them achieve home ownership? But will their more ambitious peers get there first?

Methodology: To create this study, researchers from EduBirdie surveyed 2,000 people in the US within the Generation Z demographic. Participants within this age group were invited to share their experiences at random with no focus on particular genders, ethnicities, or backgrounds.

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