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What Makes Each Generation Most Anxious?

What Makes Each Generation Most Anxious?

Rebecca Brooks

woman holding wilted rose

The effects of age on fear levels and how the COVID-19 pandemic can help brands address consumer anxiety

The COVID-19 pandemic is a primary global event that is affecting anxiety across the board. Fear is generally grounded in uncertainty—something which we are experiencing in spades at this moment. However, the American public was primed and ready for these unsettling emotions, even before the crisis hit. Our research at Alter Agents found that fear is nothing new for consumers.

When we conducted our study among a nationally representative sample of 1,002 adult U.S. respondents, we sought to examine the data through multiple lenses. One of these was how fear is affecting different generations. Some marked similarities emerged among people of all ages and, less surprisingly, some key differences that illustrated how fears shift due to life stages.

The Top Fears of Each Generation

As it turns out, we may be more like our parents than we thought. When we tracked the top fears of all generations, we found that there were three areas that everyone—regardless of age—was worried about. From the maturing Gen Z young adults to the often-ignored Silent Generation, all were concerned with healthcare, personal finances and climate change. This cohesiveness was heartening to see, especially surrounding such a diverse set of challenges. Perhaps we can even lessen our combined impact on the environment if we’re all aligned across age groups.

As we dig deeper into the data, we found other age-related concerns that made sense. Gen Z and younger had education at the top of their list of concerns, as the oldest of this group are just now graduating from college. millennials and Gen X, the most likely to-be parents of school-aged children, were both concerned about gun control laws. With nearly 2,500 mass shootings since the highly publicized Sandy Hook disaster, this comes as no surprise.


When we looked a bit closer at the older generations, we found some interesting concerns. In a time when situations abound that should be causing immediate worry, even before the pandemic, baby boomers were most concerned about immigration laws, national debt and protection of religious freedom.

Optimism and the Generations

We also examined specific levels of optimism among the generational groups, combining them into Gen Z and millennials, Gen X on its own and, lastly, boomers and older. The overall picture that we found was one of little enthusiasm for current circumstances or prevailing societal trends, but pervasive optimism that better days lie ahead.

Specifically, younger groups were less likely than older counterparts to report optimism related to financial (29%) or personal issues (42%), but were more optimistic concerning political issues than their older counterparts. They were less likely to feel satisfied with their lives and are less confident overall. However, these younger respondents were also more likely than older generations to think that their future will be better. Respondents ages 55 and above were more likely to be personally happy with their situation (55% positive), but still viewed macro trends negatively, such as the political situation (21% positive).

How Brands Can Address Consumer Fear

Brands must ask themselves questions such as: How is our brand managing the pivot from addressing the needs of boomers to the cultural expectations of younger generations? What areas of social action make sense for us and what are ways to begin testing or developing these positions?

It’s important to deeply understand the changing needs of audience members. If a brand’s target audience is made up of diverse generations, providing services, products and communications that will resonate with all of them can be tricky. Many will be looking to brands to provide assurance during unstable times, taking on the challenge of boosting morale and rebuilding confidence. The right approach to market research and consumer insights can help brands develop consumer-centric actions in the months to come.

The fact is that people are operating from a place of insecurity, driven by long-running trends and emerging concerns. Brands and organizations need to adapt to this reality to maintain authentic, trusting and engaged relationships with consumers.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash.

Rebecca Brooks is the founder and CEO of Alter Agents, a full-service market research company redefining research in the age of the promiscuous shopper.