Former Research Intern
Are the Kids Alright? How Gen Z Girls’ Well-Being Compares With Their Mothers’ and Grandmothers’ Teenage Years
The second in a series of three blogs on our "Losing More Ground" report.
December 14, 2023
Watch the webinar discussing the report’s findings.
This blog is based on findings from “Losing More Ground,” PRB’s new Population Bulletin, published November 30.
No one denies that the teen years are hard. But are they harder than they were in the past?
As the next generation of young women nears adulthood, we took a closer look at Gen Z girls, ages 15 to 19, and how their well-being compares with previous generations of teenagers. What we found is a mixed bag: While they are faring better on measures of education, political representation, and teen birth rates, these gains are tainted by an alarming rise in suicide and a slew of new challenges not faced by previous generations of girls their age.
Today’s teenage girl faces new challenges related to climate change as she plans for her future. Her middle school and high school years were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, making her likely to feel like she’s missed out on key life experiences. The most diverse generation yet, more than 1 in 3 Gen Z youth report experiencing discrimination related to their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. And the prevalence of social media in their daily lives has brought both opportunities for activism and new pressures and sources of insecurity.
Here are our major takeaways:
1. Gen Z girls are less likely to drop out of high school than previous generations. Gen Z girls’ high school dropout rate is just over half that of Millennials (4.4% compared with 8%). In the past decade, Black and Latina girls have seen the most improvement in this area, while the high school dropout rates for white girls remained stable (Figure 1). Compared with white and Hispanic peers, Black girls now have the lowest high school dropout rate.
Figure 1. Hispanic Young Women’s Dropout Rates Have Declined More But Remain Higher Than Black and White Peers
High school dropout rate (status dropout rate) for female students ages 16 to 24, by race and ethnicity
Sources: PRB, Index of Young Women’s Well-Being; National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “Table 219.7: Percentage of High School Dropouts Among Persons 16 to 24 Years Old (Status Dropout Rate), by Sex and Race/Ethnicity: Selected years, 1960 Through 2021”; and U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.
2. The teen birth rate for Gen Z is nearly one-third that of Millennials. The birth rate of Gen Z girls (ages 15 to 19) has fallen sharply relative to previous generations. In 2022, the national teen birth rate hit a record low (13.5 births per 100,000 girls). Increased sexual abstinence may play a role in declining teen birth rates, yet the decrease can largely be attributed to an expansion in access to contraceptives. Most states allow minors who meet certain criteria to consent to contraceptive care, yet only 23 states allow all minors, without additional criteria, to consent to this type of care.
3. The suicide rate is alarmingly high for Gen Z teenage girls, who are more likely to die by suicide than teenage girls during the previous three generations. The suicide rate for Gen Z girls (ages 15 to 19) is 5.1 deaths per 100,000. Suicide rates for this age group ranged from 3.1 deaths to 3.9 deaths per 100,000 for the previous three generations by comparison (see Figure 2). Girls in Gen Z are coming into adulthood in a very different context than their mothers and grandmothers and face unique social, economic, and political challenges that may contribute to poor mental health relative to previous generations. The prominence of social media in young people’s daily lives, changes in policies that affect their rights, and anxiety about how climate change will affect their future further contribute to mental health impacts unique to Gen Z. Teenage girls of color and those who identify as LGBTQ (together more than one in three high school girls) are particularly vulnerable to rising suicide rates.
Figure 2. Teen Suicide Is More Common for Gen Z Girls Compared to the Past Three Generations
Young women ages 15-19, suicide deaths per 100,000
Note: Average deaths per 100,000 women 25-34 years old, 2019-2021. Icons are rounded to the nearest whole number.
Source: PRB, Index of Young Women’s Well-Being; and PRB analysis of CDC Wonder, “Underlying Cause of Death.”
4. Gen Z is witnessing record rates of female representation in government.
The percentage of congressional and state legislators who are female has grown through the generations. As Gen Z approaches young adulthood, women comprise 30.4% of legislators, 10 times the share than when Silent Generation women were young adults (3.3%) and 8 percentage points higher than for Millennials (22% in 2016). This rise may be partially attributed to the increase in civic engagement among women of this generation and to recent political events involving women’s rights. Unlike past generations, Gen Z women are more engaged in and enthusiastic about politics than men, and their involvement is expected to maintain its upward trajectory as Gen Z men and women become eligible to enter public office.”
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, millions more Gen Z youth will be eligible to vote than in 2020. And this voting bloc may be among the most diverse, with 45% of potential Gen Z voters being young people of color. As this group’s voting population grows, the influence of their values and priorities has the potential to shift policy which may improve some of the most pressing challenges facing young people today.
To learn more about how young women’s well-being has evolved throughout generations, PRB’s “Losing More Ground” report.
|Join our discussion of the report’s findings at our Dec. 14, 2023, webinar.