How Gen Z is rewriting dating, marriage and family plans for their 20s: 'I have so much stuff I have to worry about'

Klaus Vedfelt | Digitalvision | Getty Images

A wild economy and confusing job market could be tanking some Gen Zer's expectations to get married, have kids or even adopt a pet.

Some 86% of Gen Z interns think a recession is coming, according to Goldman Sachs' 2022 global internship survey of more than 2,470 interns over the summer, and many are working to recession-proof their future careers.

Some are reconsidering big life milestones, too: In 2021, 88% of Goldman Sachs interns said they expected to get married or establish a formal relationship in the next 10 years. Among the intern class of 2022, that expectation plummeted to just 45%.

Meanwhile, 60% of interns last year had expectations to get a pet and 57% believed they'd have children in in the next decade. By the intern class of 2022, those expectations dropped to just 31% planning to get a pet and 25% expecting to become parents.

It's an interesting trend for today's Gen Z students who are short-term anxious but long-term confident about their work and lives, says Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, the job-search platform for college students.

One theory: As students get bombarded with bad news on the economy, "they're not focused on those longer-term milestones, or it feels hard to think about," Cruzvergara says. "Getting married, settling down, buying a house — all those take financial stability."

What's more, in response to news of inflation and company layoffs, 74%, of future grads say they're most concerned about finding a job that offers them stability and a good salary, according to Handshake's report on 2023 grads.

Deleting dating apps

Gen Zers aren't prioritizing romantic relationships — or if they're open to one, they want it to happen organically.

A majority (52%) expect to meet their significant other in person instead of via mutual acquaintances (30%) or an app (6%), according to the Goldman Sachs intern survey.

Cassidy Case, a 20-year-old junior at Arizona State University, briefly re-entered the dating scene after a summer breakup but quickly realized she hates using the apps. "It's so much better to meet someone organically and in-person," she says.

"Me and all my friends can attest that dating apps aren't where we expect to meet the love of our lives, so we deleted them," she adds.

Cassidy Case, 20, is a junior at Arizona State University studying marketing.
Courtesy of subject

The sheer cost of going out, thanks to inflation, could also be killing the dating game, says Oliver Sims, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Arkansas. Indeed, 19% of Gen Zers, ages 18 to 25, say they've have gone into debt from what they've spent on dating, according to a September Lendingtree survey.

Pragmatic goals around career, self-discovery and fun

Some Gen Zers are trading traditional life milestone goals for ones they have more control over.

Sarah Wang, 21 and a senior at UCLA, is pretty optimistic about her post-grad plans. If she doesn't find a job that fulfills her passions, she can design one herself in the creator economy.

And she's much more focused on exploring job opportunities that can make her mobile: "I see work as an opportunity to travel and live in different places around the country," she says. In other words, settling down through marriage, kids or a pet aren't on her immediate radar. Instead, she's focused on making new friends and investing in hobbies when she's in a new place.

Speaking as a recent grad, Jade Walters agrees that taking control of her career means de-prioritizing other life goals. The 23-year-old is a Howard University grad who in her final months of school launched the Ninth Semester, an early-career resource for Gen Z professionals. She now works a corporate job in Chicago full time and dedicates her spare time to building her own business.

"My goals from a year or two ago are different from where I'm at now," she says. Post-grad life has made her more pragmatic. "I can create all these timelines, but the timing is not up to me, so I'm just getting better on focusing on the now."

Jade Walters, 23, works a corporate job in Chicago and runs the Ninth Semester, an early-career resource for Gen Z professionals.
Seneca Williams

Young adulthood means she also has new goals she'd rather prioritize, like going on vacations and building a community of friends. With an uncertain job market, young people are focused on the short-term, "enjoying life in our 20s," and going on a self-discovery journey through therapy and internal reflection, Walters adds.

"So at the thought of having kids or getting married, you're probably thinking: 'I have so much stuff I have to worry about, and all this trauma to heal from,' and those other things are not their top priority," she adds.

Living in the now

While Gen Zers may have been more optimistic about their long-term futures in 2021, as Covid levels declined and the world reopened, this year's class may be feeling the fatigue of the virus' prolonged grasp on how we live and interact.

Throw in a chaotic economy and job market and "a lot of us are still freaking about what we're doing in the next five years, but want to enjoy now and be more present in life," Case says. "I've seen so many things with Covid to know that tomorrow is not promised. So being able to accept where you're going, and being on that growth journey to embrace where you are now, it's so huge."

As an admitted overthinker, Case adds, "being present now is super important, rather than [prioritizing] those milestones."

Check out:

86% of Gen Z interns think a recession is coming—and it’s changing their approach to their careers

Why does work feel so dysfunctional right now? A psychologist, labor expert and CEO weigh in

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