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  • 29th May 2024

Gen Z teens are taking far fewer risks

We look at how teenagers in Great Britain today are taking fewer drugs, gambling less, and having fewer pregnancies than previous generations.

Considering each behaviour in turn, there are possible explanations for each, such as increased regulation on smoking or the rising cost of car ownership. However, the consistent pattern observed across all of these risky behaviours speaks to something wider: Gen Z are taking far fewer risks.

As a society, aren’t we all taking fewer risks?

Generally speaking, risk taking behaviour is on the decline across all generations. But the trend for today’s teenagers is more pronounced. They have shown the greatest increase in abstinence from activities such as smoking and heavy drinking, which shows that there is a ‘cohort’ effect for this generation rather than just a ‘time period’ effect across all ages.

The environment that young people are growing up in has changed

The widespread presence of social media in the lives of young people may have heightened their self-awareness and perception of ‘traditional’, disinhibiting risks like getting drunk or taking drugs.

Gen Z teens’ parents are also more involved in their lives, which may discourage what might previously have been considered ‘experimentation’ with alcohol and substances. Parents now dedicate more time to their children than they did in the 1960s, both for those at work and those at home. Plus, there’s more information about the consequences of risky behaviours, which could also be a contributing factor.

Socialising patterns are also changing, for instance teens are spending less time in total socialising, and the rise of technology has shifted patterns, exposing teens to new kinds of risks such as online peer pressure, scams, sexting, and privacy breaches. Today, 18-24 year olds are less concerned about their data privacy online than other age groups (46% compared to an overall average of 31%). This has risen substantially; in 2012, just a quarter of 18-24-year-olds were unconcerned about sharing data online.

However, measuring the shift from traditionally monitored risks to these new risks is challenging, as direct comparisons with previous generations for many new ‘risky behaviours’ aren’t possible.

Not all risks are bad – avoiding risk-taking entirely can affect life outcomes

It’s good news that young people are taking fewer health risks. But not all risk-taking is bad, and a general shift away from all risky behaviours could have some mixed social outcomes. It’s widely accepted that healthy risk taking and an openness to uncertainty can play a positive role in children’s development. Further down the line it could impact other life outcomes, such as labour market participation, financial investment or migration. A study has shown that successful risk takers are far more likely to be promoted in their jobs.

We will have to see if this observed change in risk-taking behaviour for younger people does indeed translate to a general propensity to take fewer risks, and the impact this has on social outcomes. 

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BIT is a global research consultancy which combines a deep understanding of human behaviour with evidence-led problem solving to improve people’s lives. This blog will form part of a series digging into how society’s changing, spotting the big trends hidden in the things we do every day. We’re going to be on the lookout for clues in the data that show us how culture, attitudes and behaviour are shifting around us. Next up: Are we increasingly turning to online forums like Reddit for advice? 

Find out more about our services and how to work with us: https://www.bi.team/home/our-services/

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