Gen Z is an inherently social generation both in the real world an online; 57% of all 16-23-year-olds include hanging out with friends in person among the activities they enjoy most, while talking to their friends on social media is included by 26%.

But despite their confidence in socialising online, ultimately many found this an inadequate replacement for the real thing during the lockdown periods in 2020 and into 2021. Loneliness in the young population had already become an increasing concern in recent years with the COVID-19 outbreak and associated lockdowns only exacerbating the issue. There will therefore be a growing opportunity for brands to create more initiatives that help tackle feelings of loneliness amongst the young in the coming years.

Beyond feelings of loneliness, the pandemic also sparked a range of other anxieties in Gen Zers. The closure of schools and universities in the first half of the year and again in January 2021 has raised fears about academic work, while severe economic pressures and surging youth unemployment will have contributed to the cohort’s widespread concerns for their future career and financial stability.

This high level of anxiety is in turn likely to drive cautious behaviours among this already relatively sensible generation, perhaps particularly when it comes to their finances. More broadly, these pressures are set to impact people’s mental health, creating further opportunities for businesses to instigate campaigns that illustrate the role their products and services can play in improving mental wellbeing.

Key issues covered in this report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on Gen Z lifestyles

  • Gen Zers’ favourite activities

  • Who pays for Gen Zers’ lifestyles

  • The importance of the diversity and inclusivity movement to Gen Z

  • The leading causes of stress

  • The increasing shift towards online learning

COVID-19: Market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January 2020, with a small number of cases in February. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March. 

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23 March. It wasn't until 15 June that non-essential stores were allowed to re-open, followed by pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers on 4 July, and many beauty businesses on 13 July.

By September, it had become clear that the UK was at the start of a second wave, and social distancing measures were intensified. Continued increases in infection numbers led to Wales implementing a two-week national lockdown from 19 October, England announcing a month-long lockdown from 5 November, and Scotland introducing a new five-level system of coronavirus restrictions. 

Despite these restrictions, however, case numbers continued to increase. All four UK nations tightened restrictions in January 2021, effectively leading to a full UK-wide lockdown. There is no defined end date for the lockdown, although the legislation regarding to the English lockdown that was presented to Parliament extends to 31 March.

The UK’s vaccination programme started on 8 December 2020, and with both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccines licenced for use in the UK, the government aims to offer a vaccine to 15 million people by mid-February.

Impact of the January lockdown and the vaccination rollout

Much of this Report was prepared in December 2020, before the announcement of the January lockdown. However, the content was reassessed and, where necessary, adjusted on 14 January, in order to ensure that our analysis and our forecast expectations still hold true. We have also reassessed the content in the light of the progress of the vaccine rollout, and the resolution of the Brexit negotiations.

Our core assumptions on the path of the pandemic had always included an expectation of severe disruption to markets and consumers’ lifestyles well into 2021, with a strong likelihood that the virus would still be with us even into 2022. Although the second wave of infections and subsequent lockdown puts us towards the negative end of our initial expectations, these developments are still broadly consistent with our previous assumptions.

Similarly, Mintel had factored in the likelihood that an effective vaccine would be available from early- to-mid 2021. The licensing of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines puts us slightly ahead of that assumption, but the challenge associated with rolling out a new vaccination programme to millions of people means that our previous assumptions are still broadly consistent with the new reality.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its November 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK GDP will have fallen by 11.3% in 2020, recovering by 5.5% in 2021, and 6.6% in 2022. GDP isn’t expected to return to pre-COVID levels until the fourth quarter of 2022. The central scenario has unemployment peaking at 7.5% in Q2 2021.

The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts, however, and this is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q4 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP doesn’t recover until Q3 2024.

The second wave of infections and subsequent lockdowns means that the short-term prospects for the country are consistent with the OBR’s negative scenario, but this needs to be balanced against the fact that the vaccine rollout is ahead of even the OBR’s central scenario. Medium- to long-term, then, we are still basing our forecasts and market analysis on the OBR’s central economic scenario.


Please note that for this Report, Generation Z has been defined as those aged 11-23 years old, although the consumer data is based on a sample of 16-23 year olds as this is currently considered to be the core group for marketers and brands.

Mintel generational definitions

Generation Alpha (10 and under)
Generation Z (11-23)
Younger Millennials (24-30)
Older Millennials (31-39)
Generation X (40-55)
Baby Boomers (56-74)
Swing Generation/World War II (75+)
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