Zillennials Just Say No—De Ja Vu Again 2020

Woman Girl Student Smiling with Purple Hat

One in 10 eligible voters in the November 2020 election is part of Generation Z (Gen Z). Born after 1996, most are still not eligible to vote but already having a significant impact on trends and influence. They may be changing our expectations about alcohol and drug use being the American Disease [1].

Tobacco, alcohol, and other substance use disorders (SUDs) have their origins in early teenage use. We have followed use patterns for many decades with the longitudinal University of Michigan’s monitoring the future study.

This year, more teens have just said no to alcohol and drug use. We will review these new data reported in a recent peer-reviewed publication in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal and try to understand these findings by looking at the latest information on attitudes and beliefs of Generation Z or Zillennials.

The Generations from Baby Boomers to Gen Z

The generations are broken down by age when they were born [2]:

  1. Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964. (71.6 million in the U.S.)
  2. Gen X: born between 1965 and 1979/80 (65.2 million people in the U.S.)
  3. Millennials: born between 1981 and 1994/6 (72.1 million in the U.S.)
  4. Gen Y: Gen Y.1 = 25-29 years old (around 31 million people in the U.S.) plus Gen Y.2 = 29-39 (approximately 42 million people in the U.S.)
  5. Gen Z: Gen Z is the newest generation to be named and was born between 1997 and 2012/15. (nearly 68 million in the U.S.)

Generation Z or Zillennials

Gen Z, the group born between about 1996 and 2016, represents the leading edge of the country’s changing racial and ethnic change and massive changes in attitudes in behaviors. They were affluent and secure with a growing economy until COVID 19.

The racial breakdown for Zers is 1/4th Hispanic, <15% black, and 6% are Asian [3]. Z’s are still white, but a slimmer majority are non-Hispanic whites (52%). Millennials have over 60% non-Hispanic white (61%). Z’s are projected to become an economic powerhouse in the future and completely overtake Millennials in influence, numbers, and income by 2031 [4].

Gen Z plans to do things differently, both with their health, lives, and money. They aspire to be well-educated and are less likely to drop out of high school. Z’s are more likely to be enrolled in University or plan to go to a University or College.

Gen Zers tend to have a college-educated parent, more than previous generations of young people. They have anxiety and depression, which some have attributed to spending so much time on social media.

They are more likely to communicate by text than phone or see friends in person than past generations. Almost all of them ( 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds) have access to a smartphone, and all of them use at least one of seven major online platforms.

Bloomberg looked at the spending of Gen Z and thought that e-commerce, e-payments, luxury, media, and ESG would benefit from Gen Zs. But, alcohol, tobacco, meat, cars, and travel appear to have fallen out of favor and consuming them, and their industries will suffer.

They just do not seem to want to study abroad or travel as much as past generations. Experts see this as living their social idealism, but the airline and travel industry [5] could be affected by their environmental activism or sustainability.

24 to 41-Year-Old Young Adults

The “oldest” of the centennials are just 25 years old. However, they have experienced mass shootings, riots, protests, terrorism, climate change, economic recessions, and even a pandemic. They say, “if it doesn’t kill you, you get stronger,” and it does appear that Zs have acquired resilience, capacity for change, and adaption to adverse environments.

A Gen Z girlThey are likely to be driven to be successful, more financially successful, and more of a global thinker than the Generations before. The Millenials that they follow are just getting themselves together, according to recent BoA data.

2020 Money Habits Millennial Report [6] explored Gen Z’s money mindset. 1/4th of Young millennials or adults (ages 24-41) had savings of $100,000 or more. This savings rate is improved from 16 percent in 2018 and 8 percent in 2015.

Despite this good news, millennials still feel and are really behind financially, juggling substantial debt levels with finances. They are negative about their financial future, with at least 75% saying that they are not optimistic about their financial future.

Seventy-six percent of millennials carry debt of some kind, with 16 percent owing $50,000 or more. Three-quarters are saving for retirement, while 51 percent are building an emergency fund. Millennials saving for retirement started making their nest egg at 24 years old, on average – earlier than Gen X and baby boomers.

In Contrast Generation Z

Gen Z confirms that digital living is fine and also preferred. Eating meat is out; alcohol is out. Smoking cigarettes is out, and fuel consumption is out, airplane or flight-shaming is in.

“The Gen Z revolution is starting, as the first generation born into an online world is now entering the workforce and compelling other generations to adapt to them, not vice versa,” strategists led by Haim Israel said [7]. Gen Z is transforming the world, and investors need to be prepared. Members of Generation Z or centennials born between 1995 and 2010, already constitute 20% of the world workforce even though most of them are still studying through the pandemic [8].

Bank of America August 2020 Study

The new BoA study polled over 14,500 people over 16 in the U.S, but they also surveyed those over the age of 16 in UK, France, Japan, Germany, South Korea, China, India, Mexico, and Brazil. The SurveyMonkey poll was done in August 2020.

Gen Z thinks first about sustainability, social activism, and technology. Everything else to the Z’s comes second or not at all. The Z’s are the youngest generation’s economic power and fastest-growing around the world.

ACCORDING TO THE BANK, Gen Z’s — or “Zillennials'” — income is set to grow 400% over the next decade to $33 trillion. The Z’s — made up of those born after 1996 — will change everything much more than even the millennials.

Gen Z’s spending habits will likely be most different for cars, razorblades, alcohol, golfing — and tobacco. Changes in marijuana and illicit drug use may also be changing for Zs.

A Gen Z primer entitled “OK Zoomer” revealed that the Z-generation could spell trouble for numerous industries, including automobiles, alcohol, tobacco, and shopping malls. Gen Z’s values drive behavior changes for Gen Zs, and they do differ significantly from previous cohorts.

While Gen Zers account for 14.8% of eligible drivers, only 11.7% of licensed drivers belong to the generation. Why drive, the Z’s ask? The number of teenagers obtaining driver’s licenses is slowly falling.

Analysis of the report shows that driver’s license rates had, in fact, fallen from 69.3% in 1978 to 51.7% in 2011. Approximately 1/3rd of Gen Zers polled said they found car debt unnecessary, compared to about 25% of millennials.

Z’s like Uber and Lyft and 60% Gen Z-ers saying they didn’t mind just using shared car services. More futuristic still, 31% of Gen Zers said they looked forward to having a robot drive them, compared to just 13% of boomers. While 41% of millennials said they were thinking about buying a car next year, only 31% of 18-to-24-year-olds said the same thing.

A Gen Z Video game controllerWhat do Z’s like? Right now, video games, brand luxury, eCommerce, and big technology platforms. E-commerce–shop and work from home are poised to benefit from the rise of Gen Z.

Centennials do not know the world without screens, digital social networks, or smartphones, so they are always connected. They are multitasking and multiscreen.

A survey conducted by Dell Technologies of more than 12,000 young people from 17 countries reported that 80% of them aspire to work with cutting-edge technology. In contrast, 52% are sure of having the technical skills that employers require.

An incredible 45% of U.S. teens are “almost constantly” online. BoA also says that they use this continuous online presence to shop on their phone. They do not seem to think they will need or want credit cards either.

They use social media, of course. But, the significant change is that Facebook is not even in the top 3 social platforms used by Gen Z. The research found that nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Z adults (ages 18-23 years old) actively use Instagram, followed by Snapchat (63%) and YouTube (62%). Facebook does, however, remain the most used platform for Millennials (74%), Gen X (68%), and Boomers (61%).

Pragmatic and realistic is the perfect mix between millennial dreamers and the rational Gen X. For this reason, educators must find new tools to “cultivate” knowledge in young people, as those in Gen Z work on what they are passionate about.

They embrace and are passionate about self-learning and consider soft skills essential in their training process. This bias allows them to choose which company to work with consciously or self-employ, adapt to various work contexts (such as the home office or the hybrid schemes posed by the new normal), and live without prejudice with their previous generations.

They are more than eco-savvy. They are conscientious consumers who choose sustainable brands, in addition to actively participating (and even founding) environmental organizations or with a social cause, as well as being much more open and inclusive than their previous generations.

The U.S. men’s razor and blades market fell to $2.2 billion in 2018 from $2.4 billion in 2015. The U.S. has seen an 11% decline in men’s shaving products over the past five years. Bad news for in-person sports and learning to play golf. Generation Z‘s who play golf fell from 9 million to 6 million.

Teen Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs in the Gen Z era

In a few years, this generation [9] will have to take over the world. The majority won’t eat like other Generations. Most will have a meat restriction of some kind.

They also appear to be changing the rules on drugs and alcohol. Gen Z has a large group of non-drinkers. Underage drinking is on a steep decline in the U.S. though it’s declining slower for girls than for boys.

The BoA reported that between 2009 and 2019, underage drinking in boys between 12 and 20 fell from 28.5% to 17.2%, and from 25.8% to 19.9% for girls in the same age range. Most Gen Zers of legal drinking age in their respective countries claim not to be drinking at all.

According to the BofA report, those who drink alcohol do not drink as much as previous generations. Also, about half of legal Gen Z drinkers say they don’t drink at all, compared with 31% of millennials. Only 21% of those between the ages of 18 and 24 say they drink more than once a week. These data are consistent with the rise in alcohol and drug abstinence among high school students.

New Academic Research Supports These Consumer Gen Z Studies

BoA’s data is consistent with the new data reported by Robert Dupont and colleagues this month. They report that the number of teenage non-users has increased for over three decades.

Man understanding how his genetics can affect alcoholismAccording to their study published in Pediatrics, an increasing proportion of high school seniors refrained from all substance use over the past five years, continuing a 44-year linear trend. In the 2018 MTF sample, substance use rates were higher among students who were asked about vaping.

Survey versions were distributed randomly, although it appears that vaping questions were coincidentally more often distributed to students who had used alcohol. New data recently reported in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal shows that more high school students are not using substances of abuse.

57.8% of high school seniors did not use any substances in the past month. Year after year, nonuse rates continue to increase. Currently, 30.7% of high school seniors did not use any substance in their lifetime. Trends favor nonuse but vaping and marijuana marketing and use could threaten these trends [10].

The proportion of high school seniors opting for substance nonuse continues to increase more than ever. American youth are choosing not to use any alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, or other drugs. Individual substances follow distinct courses; use rates for alcohol, cigarettes, and other illicit drugs all reached 44-year lows in 2019, whereas marijuana use rates remained stagnant.

Nearly half of high school seniors vaped in their lifetime. However, including vaping as substance use had only a minor impact on nonuse rates because the vast majority of students who vape also use other substances, confirming that initiating use of any substance dramatically increases the likelihood of using others.

The prevention message proposed by Dr. Dupont and One Choice is analogous to other prevention messages and healthy living admonitions like “use a seat belt,” “wear a bicycle helmet,” “eat a healthy diet and avoid sugary drinks,” and “exercise daily.” We know not all youth will follow this guidance, but the health standards remain the same.

Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t take drugs, and you will not have a substance use disorder, problem, or overdose. Generation Z, seeing the opioid use and overdose crisis and what has become of the generations that preceded them, maybe asking why smoke or use drugs just like they have questioned getting a driver’s license. The number of young people deciding to say no, on their own is remarkable and generally has gone unnoticed.


1. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-american-disease-9780195125092?cc=us&lang=en&

2. https://www.kasasa.com/articles/generations/gen-x-gen-y-gen-z

3. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far/

4. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/essay/on-the-cusp-of-adulthood-and-facing-an-uncertain-future-what-we-know-about-gen-z-so-far

5. https://maa.theedgemarkets.com/article/zillennials-are-going-change-investing-forever-bofa-says

6. https://about.bankofamerica.com/assets/pdf/2020-bmh-millennial-report.pdf

7. https://maa.theedgemarkets.com/article/zillennials-are-going-change-investing-forever-bofa-says

8. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-19/-zillennials-are-going-to-change-investing-forever-bofa-says?sref=ATVqJRJr

9. https://www.businessinsider.com/gen-z-could-end-many-industries-risk-razorblades-doorbells-cars-2020-11

10. Levy S, Campbell MD, Shea CL, et al. Trends in Substance Nonuse by High School Seniors: 1975–2018. Pediatrics. 2020;146(6):e2020007187.

About the Author:

Mark GoldMark S. Gold, M.D., Professor, Washington University School of Medicine – Department of Psychiatry, served as Professor, the Donald Dizney Eminent Scholar, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Psychiatry from 1990-2014. He was the first Faculty from the College of Medicine to be selected as a University-wide Distinguished Alumni Professor and served as the 17th University of Florida’s Distinguished Alumni Professor.

Dr. Gold is also a Distinguished Fellow, American Society of Addiction Medicine; Distinguished Life Fellow, the American Psychiatric Association; Distinguished Fellow, American College of Clinical Pharmacology; Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine; Professor( Adjunct), Washington University in St Louis, School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry; National Council, Washington University in St Louis, Institute for Public Health

Learn more about Mark S. Gold, MD

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on December 14, 2020. Published on AddictionHope.com
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 14, 2020

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