Generational mythbusting: Exploring consumers’ different attitudes
to family and relationships

August 25, 2022

From Gen Z loneliness to silver splitters, we explore attitudes to relationships by age

At our webinar in June, we explored the topic of generations and their aspirations, analysing our brand new global data to understand nuances in consumer behaviour according to age. One area we delved into was how generations aspire to improve their personal lives, encompassing their lives at home and their relationships with family and friends, both platonic and romantic. We answered questions such as: Are Gen Z really the loneliest generation? What does the home signify for the sandwich generation? And what does a new era of remote work mean for families?

Below, we challenge some widespread assumptions about relationships in today’s world, getting to the heart of what really matters to consumers, whether they are Gen Z or Boomers. To see the bigger picture and understand how brands should flex to evolving aspirations, watch our full webinar here

Gen Z – forever friendless and lonely?

Among Gen Z, much has been said about an epidemic of loneliness, exacerbated of course by COVID-19. Much of this is unfortunately true. Our data shows that a shockingly high proportion of Gen Z agree their mental health was negatively impacted by the pandemic.

At a global level, we find that 28% of all consumers feel at risk of loneliness over the next five years (source: Foresight Factory, 2022). And in almost every global market, fear of loneliness is most prevalent among the youngest consumers: 41% of Gen Z say they feel at risk, compared with 24% of Gen X. This tallies with other quantitative data sources, for example the BBC’s global Loneliness Experiment published in early 2021, which found that 40% of Gen Z around the world say they feel lonely compared with 27% of over-75s.

Generations data

However, it is also important to bear in mind the wider context, as shown by data from our 2022 research. This shows that overall, Gen Z are happier with their friendships than other generations. Happiness with friendships ranks second out of 15 aspects of life asked about. Meanwhile, spending time with and talking to friends is the second-most popular self-care activity among Gen Z from 17 items asked about – again ranking higher than any other generation.

Of course, the fact that friendships are so important to Gen Z means that when problems arise, they are likely to be more impacted, as there is so much at stake.

Boomers – a generation of silver splitters?

When it comes to happiness with love life, this ranks lower than happiness with friendship for both Gen Z and Boomers. This is understandable from their respective life stages; Gen Z are still finding their way, while Boomers may have experienced relationship breakups.

It is interesting to juxtapose this with the proportion in each generation who have left an unhappy relationship in order to improve their happiness. Even though Boomers have had, in theory, had many more years in which to do this, and we see a lot of talk about the growth of “silver splitters” getting divorced in their 50s and 60s, this group is least likely to have done so, possibly because divorce still carries a stigma in some parts of the world. This highlights a potential need and opportunity for brands to sympathise with and offer help to older consumers who may find their love life is not a source of happiness.

New life milestones – should we expect a childless future?

There have also been many discussions in the media around whether having children is still an aspiration for Gen Z, or whether financial and environmental concerns mean they’d prefer a pet, pot plant or even an avatar.

A recently published book – AI By Design by Catriona Campbell – gained a good deal of media attention thanks to a prediction it made that in 50 years, it will be common to have a virtual child in the metaverse as opposed to a real one. This idea was predictably dubbed Tamagotchi Kids by Millennial journalists who no doubt had one of the Japanese virtual pets in their younger days.

However, when we ask consumers around the world if they have or plan to have children as part of a list of things they could do to improve their overall happiness, we find that 45% of Gen Z have either done this or plan to do it. This is somewhat below the levels found in older generations, which is perhaps understandable as many of them have not reached that stage yet, but it does show a healthy level of willingness already.

What’s the commercial opportunity?

Champion friendships while acknowledging the realities of loneliness. The implications for brands here have a lot to do with messaging, and how you present the role of friendship and relationships in the lives of consumers of all ages. There is a balance to be struck between acknowledging the fact that loneliness and unhappiness are real issues for many young people, but at the same time bearing in mind that friendships are a precious and important source of happiness for many and should be shown in a positive light.

Create space for peer-to-peer support and community. There is also a role here for services that offer safe spaces for consumers to meet new people. One relevant innovation in this space is Chill Pill, launched in May 2022, which aims to create a community-led social platform for female-identifying, non-binary and gender-fluid teenage and young adult consumers to discuss mental health concerns. The app’s tagline is “mental health shouldn’t be depressing” and features psychedelic colours and smiley faces. Peer-supported conversations happen within the app via audio and are kept anonymous. These topics all relate to our trend Social Wellness, which looks at the importance of relationships to mental health.

Want to know more?

With Collision’s trend prioritisation algorithm, you can identify areas of growth and opportunity across markets and audience segments. Get in touch to find out how we can provide the insights and tools you need to target and resonate effectively.


Written by David Crosbie

David has worked in the field of consumer trends and futuring for over a decade. He has helped clients in a wide variety of sectors – from food and drink and other FMCG to financial services and more – to plan effectively and create successful future strategies that are firmly embedded in consumer understanding.