Generation Z are angry, but is it justified?

During 2018 and 19, a truly bizarre dynamic developed on social media and in the pages of magazines across the globe. Grown adult human beings turned with fury in the direction of a Swedish teenager whose message was that they should be careful with the natural resources of the planet. The teenager — who, as it turns out, has been diagnosed as autistic — was mocked for her register of speech and her facial expressions. Her message was, largely, drowned out by the controversy that people much older than her attached to it.

Greta Thunberg is one teenager, but the above summary neatly illustrates the situation that Generation Z find themselves in. Many people below the age of 25 are angry at the world they are soon to inherit; others, who may be slower to anger, still want to change that world; and there are older generations above them, insisting that we have it all — so why don’t you get on with growing up, makeup and boys? Generation Z aren’t the first generation to be patronised in this way, of course; but do they have more of a case to justify their anger than those who have come before?

Cutting back on avocados won’t mean you can afford a house

One of the most commonly-held barbs fired at young people today is that they have their priorities all wrong. If they weren’t so insistent on Instagramming their avocado toast, the theory goes, they could save for a down-payment on a house. This ignores the very visible truth that while house prices have been rising consistently for the last decade, wages have not been doing the same.

In fact, the disparity goes back further than that; at the beginning of the 70s, the average UK salary was £2,000 and the average house price barely twice that. Less than half a century later, the average wage has risen to £26,000, while house prices have leapt to nearly £250,000. Even the down payment on that is, charitably, £12,500. Even in London, you could eat avocado toast every day for more than six years and still not have spent that deposit.

Who’s really ‘entitled’ here?

With the many features commissioned on the subject of Greta Thunberg, the derisive tone coming from many of the commentators was seemingly inspired by her sheer nerve. How did she, a schoolgirl, dare feel so entitled as to make demands of the world’s adults? Perhaps it is because the people currently running the world’s most powerful countries are extremely comfortable, while Generation Z’s only hope of catching up is by trading cryptocurrency online and hoping that the planet’s ecosystem holds up for long enough to effect real change. Even then, better environmental practice is resisted by sceptics — for whom, coincidentally, the status quo is working fine.

And then the pandemic …

If you’re in secondary education, you may have been touched to hear the supportive calls from politicians, business owners and others this year. The importance of returning children to school — because education is important — has been underlined at every turn. Often by the same people who insist that wearing a face covering in public is a gross intrusion on their human rights. After a while, it becomes difficult to avoid the conclusion that your education was not, in fact, particularly important to these individuals, especially when returns to the classroom have so closely mirrored rises in infection rates — and inevitably driven longer-term disruption.

In short, Generation Z have plenty of reasons to be furious at the generations above them and their handling of the world. Patronising them is only going to redouble that anger, so now might be a good time to listen.