In 2020, when the oldest members of Generation Z were turning 23 and taking on their first experiences in adulthood, the world was forced to shut down.

Born between 1996 and 2012, “Unlike the millennials — who came of age during the Great Recession — this new generation was in line to inherit a strong economy with record-low unemployment,” according to Pew Research Center. “That has all changed now, as COVID-19 has reshaped the country’s social, political and economic landscape.”

It has been almost exactly four years since the World Health Organization declared a worldwide health emergency due to COVID-19. With more members of Gen Z entering adulthood, where do their priorities lie?

A study by the writing platform EduBirdie surveyed 2,000 American Gen Zers to find out how they felt about the American dream. Overall, they discovered that the age group prioritizes three things for their lives: wealth, work and happiness.

More surprising are their opinions on employment:

  • Fifty-two percent in the study said they preferred being employed rather than starting their own business or being a freelancer.
  • Forty-one percent said they would get rid of remote work altogether if it meant they could get a raise.
  • Thirty-seven percent said the most important thing about their job is that they enjoy it, while 31% care more about the higher income.

“Gen Z’s way of working and living reflects a modern American dream,” Ksenia Hubska, the data lead at EduBirdie, told the Deseret News in an email. “They prioritize happiness over just money, value family, and aim for a stable future. Defying misconceptions of their laziness, our data paints a picture of a resolute generation, hungry for balance and fulfillment. They’re still determined to own a home and be financially secure, but they won’t sacrifice well-being for success.”

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The Gen Z American dream

With college tuition and student loans the most expensive they have ever been, not to mention housing prices rising quicker than wages, the American dream is becoming unaffordable for younger generations entering the workforce.

“They’re telling us they can’t buy into that American dream the way that their parents and grandparents thought about it — because it’s not attainable,” Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema told USA Today. Two-thirds of Americans in a Harris Poll survey agreed that younger generations are facing challenges more difficult than previous generations, per USA Today.

The average salary right out of college in the U.S. in 2023 was $58,862, according to Bankrate.

“For a U.S. homebuyer to spend no more than 30% of their income on monthly payments, they would’ve had to have made at least $109,868 in 2023,” per Mansion Global. “That’s also a record high, up 8.5% from 2022.”

Porter Morrison, 24, told the Deseret News that “financially, I feel like we probably have it harder than other generations. Life has become so expensive that I think it’s easy for people to get extremely discouraged with the future.”

“Not only are houses more expensive but pretty much everything is way more expensive than it used to be. Interest rates and home prices continue to rise and make it impossible to own a home unless your family is set up well or you find a job that is willing to pay an extremely high salary,” Morrison added. “I think our generation has it pretty bad.”

However unattainable it may seem, homeownership is still part of the American dream for many young people. When asked what their immediate financial goals were, 29% said they were saving for a home, while another 29% said they just want to live comfortably in the moment, per the EduBirdie survey.