Majority of American Youth Thinks Their Generation Can Make Positive Change: Poll

Despite the many hardships Generation Z and millennials have gone through during the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent poll showed they still remain more optimistic than older generations that they can cause positive change.

A poll from MTV and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research studied Americans in Gen Z (ages 13-24), millennials (ages 25-40) and Gen X (ages 41-56).

The poll found that 66 percent of Gen Z and 63 percent of millennials believed their generations are motivated to create positive change, compared to 56 percent of Gen X.

The two younger generations were also less likely than Gen X to think today's world is worse than past generations, with 60 percent of Gen X agreeing to the statement as opposed to 50 percent of Gen Z and millennials.

While Gen Z and millennials tended to favor progressive policies like universal income more than the older generation, more than 40 percent of people in both generations showed optimism that Americans can work together despite political differences.

Jonathan Belden, a 29-year-old father of five, told the Associated Press that he agrees with this sentiment.

"Where I find the most hope is when I talk to people and we find the common ground," Belden said. "When that happens, even if there are differences, it helps me to feel like there is actually good in people and in the world and that it's not going to hell in a handbasket."

young people, protest
A new poll from MTV and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows a broader trend among millennials and Generation Z who say they are more likely to be optimistic about the future and their ability to create change than their older counterparts. Above, Vincent Palma, a plumber and gas fitter from local union 1, protests against climate activists from the #GasFreeNYC coalition who are rallying and holding a news conference in City Hall Park on December 15, 2021, in New York City. Brittainy Newman/AP Photo

There are plenty of reasons for Sebastian Garcia to feel downbeat about the future.

After his family immigrated from Mexico, he was raised on a farm in northwest Texas, where he says there aren't many racial slurs he hasn't heard. When the now-24-year-old graduated from college, he decided to become an educator. But the first few years of his teaching career have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced his public school system to close for months.

Garcia and his peers, meanwhile, have had to navigate the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, weighed down by student loans that have made affordable housing and access to healthcare out of reach.

Despite the challenges of what Garcia describes as the endless pursuit of the American Dream, he says he's confident that better things are ahead. He's part of a broader trend among millennials and Generation Z Americans who say they are more likely to be optimistic about the future and their ability to create change than their older counterparts, according to the new poll.

"I know that as long as there are people willing to work hard and push through the hard times, you can persevere," Garcia said. "Me and my family are proven facts of that."

Gen Z and millennials are also more likely than Generation X to feel they can impact what the government does, with 44 percent of Gen Z and 42 percent of millennials saying they can at least a moderate amount, compared with only 31 percent of Gen X.

"Despite the challenges, in many regards, the U.S. is the only place where we have as much of an opportunity without hindrance," the New Mexico resident said. "And I want my kids to grow up in a place where they can succeed at whatever they do."

While members of all three of these generations have mixed views of the state of the country and the future, the poll shows Gen Z and millennials are not as negative about the world that their generation is facing.

Despite the fact that millennials, some of whom are now creeping toward middle age, are reaching milestones like marriage, parenthood and homeownership later in life than previous generations, close to half of them reported that their standard of living is better than their parents' at the same age. For Gen Z, about half likewise think their standard of living is better than what their parents had, while just about a quarter think it is worse.

Along with less pessimism and motivation to create change, many Gen Z and millennials put stock in progressive policies aimed at race, class and gender disparities.

Roughly half of Gen Z and millennials say they favor a universal basic income, while about a quarter are opposed. Among Gen X, about a third are in favor and roughly as many are against.

About 3 in 10 Gen Z and millennials favor reducing funding for law enforcement agencies, while about 4 in 10 are opposed. Opposition is much higher among Gen X, with 56 percent against.

And while few across the three generations oppose prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity, millennials and Gen Z are more likely than Gen X to support that policy.

Garcia said that while the past few years have been hard, "I know eventually one day, maybe not today, maybe not next year, but we will eventually overcome it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Central Park, New York, young people
A recent poll found that Generation Z and millennials were more likely to have an optimistic view of the world and the future compared to Generation X. Above, people fill Sheep Meadow in Central Park on September 26, 2020, in New York City. Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images