Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

Teens Optimistic About Their Personal Lives, But Not the World - AdobeStock 242284600

New polls show that today’s teens are optimistic about their personal lives, but less sanguine about the world. Fully 51% say that now is a bad time to be growing up, compared to 31% of teens who said this 16 years ago. (The Washington Post)

NH: Today’s teens are coming of age during a global pandemic, a recession, and growing polarization. These are turbulent times. So how has this affected their worldview? 

A recent Washington Post-Ipsos survey of 14- to 18-year-olds found that today’s teens are pessimistic about the state of the country. 51% of teens believe it’s a bad time to be growing up.

That's a +20 percentage point increase from 2005. Fully 56% also believe America’s best days are behind it. 16 years ago, the same share said the opposite. 

These youths are worried about a wide array of specific issues. In order of importance, they believe the biggest threats to their generation are political divisions, healthcare costs, racial discrimination, gun violence, and terrorism. 

Teens Optimistic About Their Personal Lives, But Not the World - Teens 1

But despite their darkening view of the world, teens remain optimistic about their own lives. 90% believe they are fairly likely “to achieve a good standard of living as an adult.”

51% think they're reasonably likely to become rich. And 83% believe their generation’s opportunity to succeed is either the same or better than their parents'. 

By race, black teens are the most optimistic about their personal lives.

94% believe they will achieve a good standard of living, and 76% believe they will become rich. Only 91% and 44% of white teens, respectively, agree with these statements.  

Teens Optimistic About Their Personal Lives, But Not the World - Teens 2

The results of this poll are consistent with those of other surveys we have covered. Young people are pessimistic about the world around them, but largely remain optimistic about their own lives.

With Homelander teens in particular, this optimism may be fostered by the sheltered parenting style of their Gen-X parents. 

Most teens of course live with their parents, and when this poll was taken during the pandemic, they were spending more time in close quarters with their families than ever before--at a time when many of these households were unusually flush with excess savings.

In a Fast Company and Harris Poll from July, Homelanders were the most likely of any generation to say that their household is "upper class. " (See "Gen Xers Hitting the Wall.")

Their Xer parents, on the other hand, offered the most negative self-assessment and were the least optimistic about their family's economic prospects. Many teens simply don't know what their actual household wealth is and feel no anxiety about their parents' prospects.

And IMO most Xers are just fine that they don't. Xers, raised by their own parents to face unvarnished reality at an early age, have no desire to do the same to their own kids.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.