The 2nd of eight installments from an enlightening study of 20-year-olds and their attitudes, behaviors, and feelings about their world and future.

This release examines their sources of frustration and optimism. What do 20-year-olds see as their biggest life challenges and conversely, what are they most optimistic about as they look toward the future?

Money is the #1 worry.  Today’s 20-year-olds have great concern about financial instability both today and in looking toward the future, and many say they have financial “problems,” “troubles,” or “struggles.”  These issues about money translate to concerns about their future careers, and they reference the challenges of “finding a good-paying job” and “finding a job that will guarantee a stable financial life.”

Maybe the desire for financial stability makes today’s 20-year-olds no different than those of other generations.  Perhaps their economic outlook is jaded by growing up during a time now known as the “Great Recession of 2008-2012,” the longest period of economic decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  As children, they no doubt were affected or at the least, aware of the financial crisis that caused a massive instability, and resulted in widespread loss of jobs, homes and even life savings.

The pressures of education.  As with generations before, today’s 20-year-olds are also experiencing the demands required for academic success. Nearly half of our 20-year-old respondents indicated that the burdens of scholastic achievement – they specifically mention college acceptance, studying, exams, earning good grades – present serious challenges in their everyday lives.  

Mental health concerns. The third most-often mentioned challenge facing today’s 20-year-olds relates to various mental health-related issues. They specifically reference anxiety, stress, depression and loneliness. This is not surprising, because this age group has grown up with an increased awareness of mental health issues, generated by more open discussion across mainstream and social media networks.

The increased awareness and concern are no doubt driven by some alarming facts. According to a recently released study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Gen Z group has exhibited a higher degree of anxiety and depression than other age groups, and the overall suicide rate for 18-22-year-olds has risen by more than 50% over the past decade.  

There is a brighter side. Some of the areas mentioned most as life challenges were also mentioned most as areas for optimism in the future.

Looking forward to having a career.  More 20-year-olds mention career optimism than any other single area (29%).  And they look forward to pursuing these careers, in the hope that they will bring them a sense of fulfillment – as well as financial stability – which combined, present a rosy picture of a more productive and comfortable life.  Here is a sampling of some of their statements:
•I am most optimistic about the career paths I choose to follow and the experiences I will have.
•I am most optimistic about my career – I feel like I could accomplish good things.
•I am most optimistic about finding a job or career that I really enjoy
•I’m most optimistic about having a well-paying career and being able to live comfortably.


Hopeful in relationships. Future success in relationships was another source of optimism, with 24% of the sample expressing confidence about their prospects in this area.  The most frequently mentioned facets of relationship optimism related to a desire to pursue a more “traditional” family situation – a spouse, children, and a house.

The ability to achieve life goals.  Finally, there was some hopefulness expressed by 20-year-olds about reaching their overall goals. They specifically mentioned success in their careers, family, and in achieving their life’s dreams (11%) as well as attaining their educational objectives, such as getting good grades and graduating college (10%).


What are the underlying factors influencing these life perceptions? We will more deeply explore the reasons behind these intriguing responses – as well as those to the many other questions we posed – by convening small group discussions with “key influencer” 20-year-olds over the summer.  This qualitative approach will provide clarity on many of the intriguing findings of this study.

Next up in the “Being 20™” Series: Brand Affinities - What brands do 20-year-olds connect with most? Stay tuned…

Our “Being 20™” series: As Consumer Truth® celebrated 20 years of Truth Discovery™, we wondered about today’s consumers who were born when our business was created.  That group on the precipice of adulthood, straddling the end of the Millennial generation and the beginning of Gen Z. How do they perceive their world and future and what are the implications for marketers?  To find out more, we launched a proprietary study among this specific age group. We want to share the results, which we know will provide valuable insight and understanding to better inform strategy, communication and connection with today’s 20-year-old and the Gen Z generation.

Our research partners in executing the “Being 20™” study:
Quantitative study fielded by Dynata
Qualitative: Key Influencers provided by Find Your Influence