Consumers of 2030: Ten Gen Z Expectations that Forecast the Consumers of the Future

Matt Hay

September 2019
5 Minute Read

Consumers of 2030: Ten Gen Z Expectations that Forecast the Consumers of the Future

Part 1 of 2

In the year 2030, the majority of Gen Z will be in their 20’s and 30’s and likely considering family, career, and what it means to be a full-fledged adult. It’s at this point too that their economic power as a consumer group will begin to be fully realized.

Our consumer insights study this month of 2,000 13-17 year-olds focuses on their expectations of the future. We explore what Gen Z predicts for the next ten years of their lives and how those expectations might impact marketers’ plans for the future.

In our nearly 25 years of studying teens and young adults, we have countless examples of our culture evolving in a way that closely matches the expectations of young consumers. Look no further than our March 2016 study (9 months before the Presidential Election) when despite every poll and political pundits’ predictions, teens told us they expected Donald Trump to win.



Education: More young people are planning on going to college than ever before

While we believe the so-called “crisis” of Higher Education has been exaggerated, there is no doubt that colleges and universities are undergoing dramatic change as young people are prioritizing career outcomes and how to mitigate student debt when choosing a college.

In the most recent year for which statistics are available (2016), the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that about 69% of students who graduated high school in 2016 were enrolled in college that same year. Compare that to our latest survey that indicates 77% of current high school students intend to enroll in college. That number would drive college enrollment past its all-time high (in 2010) of more 21 million students.

And there is more good news for 4-year colleges and universities; in 2016, about half of that enrollment was in 2-year community colleges, but in our study, 60% of today’s students intend to go to a 4-year school (with only about 18% saying they are planning on a community college).

77% of today’s high school students intend to enroll in college – impacting both Higher Education and brands that target college educated consumers.



Careers: Young people will fill the jobs in some growing industries, but leave others lacking qualified candidates

The data we collected around the anticipated careers of current high school students is complex, particularly when compared to the current US workforce. Three industries stood out:

Healthcare: According to the US Department of Labor, healthcare is the largest industry in the US at about 12.5% of the total workforce. 16% of teens in our study plan to make a career in healthcare. As the US population grows older (according to a 2018  U.S. Census Bureau report, in 2035 there will be 78 million people 65 years and older), there will be a need for the healthcare workforce to grow and Gen Z appears situated to meet that demand.

Nonprofits: Given Gen Z’s enthusiasm and activism on social issues (more on that below), we expected far more than 1% of teens to indicate their intent to pursue a nonprofit career. Nonprofits account for about 10% of the total workforce, so the industry appears to have its work cut out for it in persuading Gen Z to pursue a career in nonprofit work.

Entrepreneurship: In 2018 , a study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor and Babson College and Baruch College found that 27 million working-age Americans – nearly 14% of the workforce – were starting or running new businesses. It was a record high for this study, but falls far below the 24% of our teen respondents who say they plan to become entrepreneurs.

The intended career paths of today’s high school students is great news for healthcare and entrepreneurship, but may signal a challenge ahead for nonprofits.



Income: Fewer teens expect to earn middle income wages

Using US Census and Pew Research Center data of lower, middle, and upper household income levels, we asked teens what they expected their household income to be in ten years. For context, according to Pew’s 2018 study, 52% of adults lived in middle-income households, 29% in lower-income households and 19% in upper-income households. So, what does Gen Z expect to be earning in ten years?

26% said they expect to be earning a salary equal to today’s lower-income household
49% said they expect to be earning a salary equal to today’s middle-income household
25% said they expect to be earning a salary equal to today’s upper-income household

The raw numbers are not substantially different than today’s actual income levels. In other words, Gen Z expects their future economic circumstances to be similar to their current household income.

Youthful optimism and a belief in the American Dream have been supplanted by a pragmatic, if not pessimistic view about upward mobility.



Social Issues: Teens show a unified voice around a singular issue in 2030

Understanding the social issues that are most important to teens provides insight into today’s youth culture and indicates areas for brands to focus their cause marketing. In our social activism study about a year ago, 68% of teens said companies had an obligation to solve social issues.

In 2018, ranked in order, the top 5 key social concerns of teens were Education, Jobs and Unemployment, Prejudice and Racism, the Environment, and Terrorism. Because our study this month focused on expectations about 2030, and not their concerns today, we anticipated a few difference. Ranked in order, teens believe that the main social issues in 2030 will be:

Climate change 41%
Gun Violence 22%
Race 14%
Immigration 11%
Income Inequality 7%

Immigration makes its first appearance on this list, while Education drops off for the first time. But the biggest surprise might be Climate Change – with teens more unified and galvanized around a single issue than ever before.

Climate Change is ranked #1 on our list of social issues of concern for 2030 and garnered nearly twice as many votes as the second-ranked issue.



Tech: Wearable tech seems poised to break through to young consumers

From laptops to gaming consoles, tech is a central part of nearly every aspect of Gen Z’s lives. When it comes to tech teens “use every day,” smartphones are the dominant device with nearly 95% saying they have a smartphone or access to one. What tech does Gen Z think they will be using every day ten years from now?

Nearly 90% say that the smartphone will still be the most important daily-use device. But one-third of teens say that wearable tech will be critical to them by 2030. This is a bit of a surprise, because despite the mass media buzz about wearables, teens have been slow to adopt it. Last year only 2% said wearable tech was their favorite kind of technology. Our study supports the findings in a  new report  published by GlobalData last month, that says the wearable tech market will increase at a rate of 19% in the coming years.

Young people expect to be using the following technology every day by 2030:

Mobile Phone or Tablet 88%
Desktop or Laptop Computer 58%
Wearable Technology 33%

Wearable tech ranked third behind only smartphones and computers as tech that young people think they will be using every day in the next decade.


Be on the lookout for Part 2 of “2030 Consumers” next month for Gen Z’s expectations about marriage & family, politics, religion, diet & exercise, and more.

Contact us to learn more about Gen Z or to discuss how we can help your brand reach teen and young adult consumers.