In a conversation between Fox News commentators on the show “The Five,” they discussed how college enrollment dropped 10% from its pre-pandemic levels. They attribute this to college students being lazy, universities being too “woke” and college not looking as fun anymore. Interestingly enough, each of the co-hosts have a college or professional degree.
Greg Gutfeld, a co-host, had a few thoughts about current-day college students. He claimed that college students are “deliberately uglifying themselves.”
He said, “You see them on TikTok. They're out of shape. They're asexual. They're like, they don't want — they're like, rejecting. They're rejecting the truth and beauty. They all look like rejects from a loony bin.”
Gutfeld himself is a 1987 graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles. Considering this, I question how he is able to generalize about the entirety of the college student population in the United States when he hasn’t been a student at a university in 36 years. Regardless, how is beauty a relevant factor in getting an education?
While this is an extreme example, this is common rhetoric directed toward young people from older generations. So, what gives?
Older generations criticizing younger ones is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Plato even did around 470 BC — stating, “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
In a study from the University of California, Santa Barbara, researchers found that older generations have a somewhat selective memory when it comes to remembering their youth. Participants were asked to rate various traits of today’s youth, then to rate themselves when they were young. Researchers found that the higher a person rated themselves, the lower they rated young people today.
Adults were more critical of others regarding their strengths. They often compare their perceptions of their younger selves to young people based on memory, which can rarely be trusted, especially when one gets older. Researchers did counter, however, that it’s possible to be more sympathetic by being aware of personal biases that you hold.
It seems almost inevitable that young people will continue to be the proverbial punching bag of older generations. However, is it possible that Gen Z will differ in attitude toward younger people based on their dissimilar upbringing than that of the boomers?
Gen Z is already drastically different from the baby boomers. Our financial, environmental and political circumstances vastly differ from those in the boomer generation.
We have 86% less purchasing power than baby boomers did in their 20s. As prices have gone up, wages haven’t kept abreast of that increase, and many are left to consider what is more important: groceries or rent. Rent has gone up dramatically, especially in the Madison area. The national average for an apartment today is $2,000 a month, while in the 1970s it was $800 in today’s currency.
Additionally, public university tuition has increased by 310%. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s in-state tuition during the 1980-81 school year was $976, which is around $3,448.50 today. Today, in-state students have to pay $10,798, which can be blamed on rising inflation and budget cuts. During the 1973-74 school year, 44% of UW’s budget came from the state, while today it’s around just 16%.
Additionally, with more graduates from four-year institutions, workers with college degrees are forced into lower-skilled and lower-wage jobs. It’s not unheard of for people to refer to college degrees as “the new high school diploma.” Around 34% of new college graduates stated their job could be attained without a college degree, which shows that the path to success isn’t as linear as it once was for older generations. Comparatively, around 50% of boomers in the labor force said they had good jobs when they were 25 years old, while less than 45% of millennials could say the same
Gen Z also lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. Socialization is crucial for developing teenage brains and teenagers weren’t able to make connections with their peers, thus weakening their mental and emotional health. Online school also took an emotional toll on students, but the pandemic didn’t leave people with many other options. This left students who were struggling mentally — or academically — between a rock and a hard place. Boomers didn’t have this interrupted education.
Furthermore, as the environment is rapidly declining, Gen Z is left to pick up the pieces. A team of 17 researchers in the United States, Mexico and Australia argued in a recent scientific journal publication that biodiversity decline, overconsumption and overpopulation could jeopardize the human race in the years to come. Climate inaction could lead to disastrous consequences, but with less political capital than older generations, Gen Z has less of a say on their future than those who won’t live to see the consequences of their actions.
Gen Z is drastically different from older generations because the circumstances of our youth are drastically different. As technology and societal norms continue to develop, will Gen Z be good-natured toward younger people, or will we inevitably turn out like the generations before us? Only time will tell.
Nina Starynski is a sophomore studying Political Science, Criminal Justice, and History at UW-Madison. Do you think Gen Z is different than older generations, or is it just youthful optimism? Let us know at email@example.com.