Key Findings – Generation Z: Portrait of a New Generation of Young Canadians and How They Compare to Older Canadians
- Generation Z (Gen Z) is more ethnoculturally diverse than previous generations. Members of Gen Z are more likely to be born outside of Canada, to speak a language other than English and French, and to be members of a visible minority, compared with members of older generations.
Social and political orientations
Generation Z shares many characteristics with Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers; however, there are also notable differences:
- Trust: Members of Gen Z are as trusting of people, in general, as Millennials, but less trusting than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (who are the most trusting group). However, the difference between the youngest and oldest Canadians is moderate (less than 10 percentage points).
- Materialism: Gen Zers are the least materialistic of all generations of Canadians, while those 35 years and older are the most materialistic. The differences between Gen Zers and Millennials are minimal.
When it comes to politics, members of Gen Z are quite distinct:
- Cynicism: Gen Zers are less cynical about politics compared with Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers.
- Satisfaction with democracy: Gen Zers are more satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada than Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers.
- Partisan identification: The youngest Canadians identify less with political parties compared with older groups of Canadians, which could be partly related to their more limited experience with politics. While close to 80% of Canadians aged 35 years or older report identifying with a federal political party, less than 70% of those aged 18–22 and less than 60% of those aged 16–17 say they identify with a federal political party. Among those reporting a partisan identity, those aged 16–17 report weaker partisan attachment compared with the three other age groups.
Political engagement and participation
Gen Zers are generally less engaged with politics:
- Knowledge: On average, Canadians aged 16–22 have the least political knowledge, compared with the two oldest age groups. On average, they answered two of 10 political questions correctly, while Gen Xers and Baby Boomers answered five of 10 questions correctly.
- Political interest: Gen Zers report more frequently they are not interested at all or somewhat uninterested in politics and public affairs (43%), compared with those aged 23–34 (30%) and 35 and over (24%).
- Feeling of political competency: Young Canadians feel less politically competent. Gen Zers and Millennials have relatively equal levels of political confidence and tend to agree somewhat with the statement "politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me can't understand what's going on," while Canadians aged 35 and over are less likely to agree with this statement.
Gen Z tend to have distinct news consumption patterns compared with older Canadians:
- Canadians aged 16 to 22 follow the news much less frequently than older Canadians. For example, roughly 25% of them report that they never check the news, and close to half of them only check the news once or twice a week.
- The most-used media consumption outlet for younger Canadians is social networking applications (52%), followed by television and web apps on mobile devices. For older Canadians, television is the number one source of information (69%), followed by–relatively equally–print media, radio, web apps on mobile devices, and information found on social networks.
- Gen Z–the first generation to have grown up with smartphones–displays relatively equal levels of trust in traditional journalism and news posted on social media, unlike the two older age groups, who trust traditional journalism more.
The first two points of this section only compare underage and adult Gen Zers:
- Political discussion in social networks: The only difference between the two youth groups is that those aged 16–17 discuss politics more frequently with their teachers than those aged 18–22 do.
- Civics courses and mock elections: Respondents aged 16–17 were significantly more likely to report having participated in a mock election at school (52%), compared with those aged 18–22 (43%). Those aged 16–17 were also significantly more likely to report having taken civics courses in high school (81%), compared with those aged 18–22 (71%).
- Contacts with political parties: There is a substantial and significant gap in the mobilization of Canadians. Less than 30% of young Canadians under the age of 35 reported having been in touch with political parties or candidates during the 2019 campaign, while about 40% of Canadians aged over 35 said they had been in touch with a party or a candidate.
Attitudes towards the electoral process
- Duty to vote: Canadians aged 35 and over agreed with the statement that voting is a duty 60% of the time, while Millennials and Generation Z agreed just half the time that voting is a duty, rather than a choice.
- Trust in Elections Canada: The survey reveals that Elections Canada is one of the most trusted institutions by Canadians. Gen Xers and Boomers display the highest level of trust in Elections Canada (with a trust score of 0.65), compared with Millennials and Gen Zers (with trust scores of 0.55 and 0.56 respectively).
- Interest in working at a poll: 34% of those aged 16–17 and 39% of those aged 18–22 were somewhat interested in working at a poll, and 36% and 31% of them, respectively, were very interested.
- Youth registration: 50% of Gen Z would prefer to use an online form, either at school or at home, to register before they are 18. Another 15% of them would register at school using a paper form. However, close to one-quarter of Gen Zers are not interested in registering to vote.
- Ease of voting in a federal election: The oldest age group of Canadians–those who are the most likely to vote–are also the most likely to agree with the statement that "voting is easy." By contrast, only 33% of Millennials and adult Gen Zers agree somewhat that voting is easy, and just 22% agree strongly. Underage Generation Z youth are unsure about the ease of voting: 40% are undecided as to whether voting seems easy or not.
- Lowering the voting age to 16: 50% of Canadians aged 16–17 support lowering the voting age, while less than 25% of Canadians aged 35 and over support this idea.
Political and civic behaviours
- Climate actions: Canadians of all ages engage in an average of three actions to protect the environment. Gen Zers and Millennials are more likely to share information online about the environment and, to a certain extent, to reduce their meat consumption, compared with Gen Xers and Boomers.
- Turnout: Canadians aged 35 years or older report voting at rates substantially and significantly higher (80%) than those aged 23–34 (62%) and 18–22 (52%). Underage Gen Zers (who were 16 and 17 years old at the time of the election) displayed high intentions of voting in 2019: 70% said they were certain they would have voted had they been eligible.
- A regression analysis explaining intentions of electoral participation by those aged 16 to 17 and self-reported participation for those aged 18 to 22 reveals the importance of several explanatory factors:
- Visible minority status: For adult youth, the predicted probability of electoral participation of non-white respondents was lower than that of white respondents.
- Political discussions: More frequent discussions with friends has a positive effect on intended turnout for underage youth. Increased political discussions with teachers has a negative association with predicted turnout for adult youth; however, the association is positive for underage youth.
- Information search: Searching for political information during the electoral campaign has a positive association with turnout for adult youth.
- Civic duty, political interest, perception of the ease of voting: The belief that voting is a duty, one's level of political interest, and the perception that voting in a federal election is easy are all positively associated with predicted probabilities of intended and self-reported turnout for the two youth groups. However, these associations are always larger and more statistically significant for underage youth.
- Campaign activities: The differences in campaign engagement between the four different age groups are not very stark. For example, approximately 45% of all age groups watched at least one of the leaders' debates, and 10 to 15% of youth said they attended a political debate organized at their school or university. However, the oldest age group was still more likely to search for information about parties and candidates (roughly 40% of those aged 35 or more, compared with 10–20% of the three younger age groups). However, Gen Z and Millennials were more likely to use the Vote Compass and to attend an information session on the election.
- Non-electoral forms of participation:
- Young Canadians are more active than older Canadians: The 16–17 and 18–22 age groups reported having done, on average, 3.5 of 9 non-electoral political actions in the past year, compared with an average of 2.8 actions for those aged 23–34 and 2.3 actions for Canadians aged 35 or older.
- The patterns of activism were different across age groups. For example, youth aged 16–22 are significantly more likely to raise or donate money for a cause, to volunteer for organizations, and to have taken part in both environmental and political protests or marches, compared with the two older groups. Generally, youth between 16 and 34 were more likely to sign petitions, to boycott or buycott products, and to share political information online. The only form of political participation in which Canadians aged 35 and over were most active is in contacting public or governmental officials.