The COVID-19 pandemic will cast a long shadow over the lives of everyone who lives through it. Younger people, though, will carry that history longer, and the effect could be more acute than for older Americans who have witnessed other crises. Some Gen Zers may have memories of 9/11 or of older siblings who came of age during the Great Recession. Harrowing as these events were, they did not create the same daily global disruptions, and for many Gen Zers they probably sound more like lessons from a textbook.

The pandemic is a watershed moment, a kind of crucible that will shape Gen Z’s behaviors and the way it sees the world. With that in mind, CivicScience looked at the first impacts of this crisis on Gen Z, considering how young people’s behaviors have already begun to shift under the “new normal.” Though several of these trends were visible in America before the outbreak, the pandemic has intensified them. Some have changed more rapidly than others, but all have the potential to ripple out for years to come. 

Online Shopping

One aspect of life for which the pandemic might have long-term consequences is shopping. At the beginning of the quarantine, when Americans had no idea how the virus was transmitted, many didn’t just socially distance themselves from friends and family—they also avoided stores, turning instead to online shopping. Gen Z did the same. 

In April, 31% of Gen Z was shopping online more than usual. By June, that number increased to 37%. Not surprisingly, a similar percentage of Americans over 25 also started shopping more often online, relying on goods being delivered straight to their front doors.

However, despite the growing online-shopping trend, many are still reluctant to go completely virtual when it comes to stocking the fridge. While online grocery orders certainly saw an increase at the beginning of quarantine, the data show Americans over 25 are more likely to jump aboard than their younger Gen Z counterparts. 

Gen Z adults are actually less interested in grocery delivery than they were before the pandemic. 

In January, about 26% of adults 18-24 years old used online grocery delivery, while another 16% intended to use it. Usage climbed at first, peaking at 33% in April, but has since fallen ten percentage points. At the same time—and perhaps more tellingly—intentionality has fallen also: only 12% of Gen Z adults now say they’re going to try grocery delivery services, and disinterest has grown from 55% to 65% in the last two months.

No doubt grocery delivery saw an uptick in interest at first. But does that signal a change for the future? Gen Z’s waning interest could provide some indication. The fact that it runs counter to the interests of many Americans over 25, though, could point toward other economic realities. As the pandemic and economy become less certain, more young-adult Gen Zers may be putting off their first year of college or moving back in with their parents as many Millennials did during the Recession. All these moving parts could factor in.


While Gen Z’s interest in some online services may have decreased,  overall streaming has shifted upward a bit during the pandemic. Thirty-one percent of Gen Z watched Netflix daily during the first quarter of 2020. That’s the same in Q2. But those who watch it weekly went up two percentage points as well.

Among Gen Z, Amazon Prime saw a bump of two percentage points in daily viewership and four percentage points in weekly viewership over the same period.

Another source of entertainment that’s experienced a bit of a surge is video games. Gaming isn’t just for the young anymore: while about 60% of Gen Z plays video games to some extent, so do around 40% of Americans over 25. And with the prevalence of online play, coupled with the ability to chat with other gamers around the world, it’s easy to see how video games could offer a sense of connection while quarantining. 

Maybe this explains why occasional and daily Gen Z gamers rose between March and May, and those who say they never play video games dropped nine percentage points. Like video streaming, the numbers for daily Gen Z gamers have come down, suggesting younger people are either venturing back out or beginning to tire of screens and turning to non-electronic activities. But occasional gaming is still up. Perhaps Gen Zers who were turned on to video games during the beginning of the pandemic will keep playing, albeit not every day. 

Interested to know how the pandemic is impacting Generation Z’s thoughts on health, stress, and politics? Check back on Monday, July 27 for the second part of this study.