When Nicki Minaj said, “Broke people should never laugh,” we took that to heart. For Gen Z (at least those of us who live in the US), more so than other generations, “getting our bread up” is an honorable pursuit that is prized over most other things. We’re doing away with traditional values like settling down before 30 and paving entirely new, unorthodox paths for one’s young adulthood and financial success. However, as noble or economically savvy as this might seem, how much of this straying from tradition is actually of our own accord?
I may not be a finance Barbie, but it’s plain to anyone with an interest in building a decent financial future that Gen Z has been given a horrendous deck of cards. The consequences of drastic inflation and economic turmoil in our lifetimes (thanks to previous generations and probably Reagan) have made it so that the cost of the American dream is exponentially higher than it was in previous generations, leaving us no choice but to value money above other pursuits like love or domesticity to achieve even middle-class status. To add fuel to the fire, the pandemic hit right as we started entering the workforce, and job stability is a privilege we’ve never known. Anxiety surrounding finances has practically been spliced into our DNA.
Our parents were able to buy houses in their 20s, but in our case, the average price of a home in the US has quadrupled since 2000, and the average income has remained stagnant. Seemingly attainable milestones like buying a car have been placed out of our reach. Even higher education, the once guaranteed lifeline to better one’s economic standing, is becoming a burden too expensive to carry with little promise of career prospects. As a result, college enrollment has dropped by 10% in the past ten years. All of the traditional pathways to financial stability have been narrowed for us, so we’ve had to find new routes.
For our generation, putting off ideas of marriage and starting families isn’t a particularly heartbreaking notion; in fact, studies have shown that more than half of Gen Zers do not want children—we’ve all seen the lady with the list on TikTok (if our mothers knew it was possible to lose all of your teeth during pregnancy, they probably would have put us off too). Prioritizing money over marriage—catching flights, not feelings—in our early 20s is easier for a lot of us because, for better or worse, we see people as opportunities.
Our main means of socialization in 2024 is, without a doubt, social media, which has been completely perverted from a place of connection to a place of commodifying people. Growing a large network for better career opportunities or social status has become the underlying goal of a lot of social media and dating apps. Who you know online can open a lot of doors for you on Linkedin and on Raya, and we’ve become really good at leveraging those connections. Dating apps specifically have become more of a hookup-finder based on the superficial rather than producing any possibility of love. Even those who do find love and choose to settle down still shy away from marriage in preference of a partnership, oftentimes for financial reasons: why give some other person access to your hard-earned money? Joint bank accounts are out!
In the workforce, we’ve seen lots of change in the name of equality over the past fifty years (thank you EEOC), but we’ve also seen a lot of struggle and uncertainty. So we’re demanding more. Our parents and grandparents love to rant on and on about how we’re an entitled generation, begging us to wake up and experience the real world. While the conversation of our entitlement may sting a bit, there is some truth to it: it laid the foundation for us to question why hard work doesn’t pay off for so many people. How is it that people can work three jobs and still live paycheck to paycheck? Why are so many people sticking with jobs that make them miserable? Why should that be the “real world?” It sucks.
No longer are we buying into the mindset that discussing wages with your coworkers is taboo. We are well aware that wage transparency is crucial to closing gender, race, age, and other identity-related wage gaps, and we refuse to be taken advantage of. Additionally, if we’re asked to take on more responsibility, we expect compensation. We’re also willing to job-hop if our needs are not met, something that is still heavily looked down upon by older generations, but why be loyal to a company that won’t be loyal and supportive of us?
If we’re having trouble feeling fulfilled or getting ahead at work, we are not afraid to create our own careers. We are nothing if not resourceful. According to Samsung, some 50% of us are becoming our own bosses and forging our way in the world through various creative fields like influencing or content creation. Some are starting entire businesses as teens. Why not, when selling clothes on Depop can make you more in a month than an entry-level corporate job?
We’re also learning how to build generational wealth. Hustle culture and countless “how to become a millionaire” TikToks have helped us step outside the box in terms of making money. We’re done buying into the idea of “live to work.” We’re working smarter, not harder, by making our money work for us and deconstructing ideas and strongholds around wealth. More young people are investing in stocks than ever before. We’re also using ROTH IRAs and switching to high-yield savings accounts, setting up a brighter financial future for ourselves and an actual chance at retiring in this lifetime.
The world that we as a generation have been brought into has made it increasingly harder to achieve the quality of life once promised to the generations before us. Our pursuit of money isn’t a choice of greed—can it even be considered a choice if it’s been forced onto us by the state of the world? We can’t reset the economy overnight, but we also can’t and refuse to submit to old economic practices that simply do not benefit us. While our family lives may be stunted for now, hopefully, one day, chasing the bag will not have to be at the expense of our personal lives, and our generation will be able to balance work and family without sacrificing our health or happiness.