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What Social Causes Are Young People Passionate About Right Now?

Feb 24 2022

The top causes that these generations care about naturally shift over time–what are they today, and what do brands need to know about their involvement?


TL;DR

  • Two years into the pandemic, Gen Z and Millennials are shifting their focus from COVID-specific causes to ones of greater inequity 
  • Racism has become the top social cause / issue that young people are passionate about in North America
  • But mental health help / care is the top cause young consumers want brands to be more involved in

In the last few years, young consumers have become more activated than ever as the pandemic put a spotlight on long-standing social issues impacting their generations. Of course, the pandemic itself also became a cause that mattered to them, with YPulse finding that COVID-19 was the top social cause that young people cared about in 2021. But as we enter a new phase of the crisis and their views begin to shift (see: YPulse’s The In-Between trend research) are the causes they’re most passionate about shifting as well?

YPulse’s recent causes / charity and activism report once again asked 13-39-year-olds “What social causes / issues are you passionate about?” and we’ve compared their responses to  to last year’s to see how Gen Z and Millennials’ social cause focus has changed:

COVID-19 is no longer the top cause that young people say they are passionate about, dropping to the third in the ranking. Of course, COVID is still important to Gen Z and Millennials, with the majority telling YPulse we are still living in the COVID-era. But a lot has also changed in the last year, and 64% of young people agree: “This is our new normal, we will never go back to the way life was pre-COVID.” This change in perspective has shifted their focus from COVID as a short-term crisis to COVID as an ongoing reality. With that, it’s fallen below other issues that center around inequality. Racism is the top cause that young people are passionate about, followed by Black Lives Matter. In the months before the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Gen Z and Millennials told YPulse that racism/discrimination is the biggest problem their generations face, and last year we found the majority feel that racism in the U.S. has gotten worse. While that may paint a bleak picture for young people’s current perspective, there is truth to it. The Government Accountability Office reported about 1.3 million students, ages 12-18-year-olds old, were bullied for their race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation during the 2018-2019 school year. In the same year, 1.6 million students were subjected to hate speech due to their identity, and Black students in particular are most often victims of this type of harassment. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism (CSUSB) also revealed that Black Americans remained the most targeted group across most cities in the U.S., while anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339% in 2021 compared to the year before, with New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities surpassing their record numbers in 2020. This has led to Black students staging walkouts to protest racism and bullying at their schools. Young AAPI students have also been taking the initiative to combat racism and bullying at their schools by organizing events with nonprofit organizations like Stop AAPI Hate and Act to Change.

These two issues were, of course, also at the top of the ranking last year. But some causes moved into the top 10 that were lower on the list in 2021: Gender equality / sexism and abortion / birth control both ranked higher this year, potentially a natural reaction to these issues being tested and threatened. We told you that young females’—especially young mothers’— mental health have been especially impacted by the events of the last two years. YPulse’s What’s Next For Work trend research found that the pandemic negatively impacted women’s careers far more than men, with more women losing their jobs, taking pay cuts, or opting to be a stay-at-home mom due to lack of childcare options—and fewer women taking on new roles with higher salaries. Meanwhile, women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. have also been threatened as lawmakers in some states began putting restrictions on abortions leading many to question the future of Roe v. Wade. Sexual harassment / abuse also took a higher spot on the list as the #MeToo movement continues to be a global force.

LGBTQ discrimination / rights took the tenth spot on the list this year. According to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that runs suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQ+ youth, counselors fielded over 150K “crisis contacts” (calls for help via phone, text, and chat) in the last year andnearly half those calls came from people under the age of 18, and over a third were from people of color. YPulse research shows that the number of young adults who identify as LGBTQ+ is continuing to grow, and young people are taking more initiative to support themselves and their community.

One issue that appeared in the top 10 for the first time this year is mental health help / care, which we added to the 2022 survey in response to these generations’ continued prioritization of mental wellness. In fact, when we asked 13-39-year-olds, “What causes do they want to see brands get involved in?” Mental health help / care took the top spot:

In the last few years, more brands have been entering the mental health conversation, providing resources to help with mental wellness during the pandemic and beyond, as well as tapping the anxiety economy. YPulse’s mental health behavioral report also shows it’s something young consumers are open to, with 69% saying “Brands should be encouraging open discussions about mental health.”

Poverty and racism remain also top causes that young people want brands to be involved with. According to a national poll conducted by Civiqs, support for the Black Lives Matter movement declined, and while our own research shows that Black Lives Matter has moved down a few spots from last year, it is still a cause that Gen Z and Millennials want brands to be involved in. We told you about the brands that are keeping their promises to becoming more diverse and inclusive, and many have been launching initiatives to combat discrimination or educate people on anti-racism. Climate change is also still a top cause that young consumers want brands to support. The truth is that though it may have dropped out of the top 10 causes they’re currently passionate about, climate change is still at the top of young people’s minds. Our recent sustainability report found that the majority of 13-39-year-olds believe corporations should take more responsibility for fighting climate change.

LGBTQ discrimination / rights, gender equality / sexism, and marijuana legalization round out the top 10. We mentioned earlier that The Trevor Project is a nonprofit that has been running suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQ+ youth for a long time—and brand partners like Google, Google, YouTube, Macy’s, Procter & Gamble, Harry’s, and Abercrombie & Fitch, have worked to keep them funded. But the group’s work has also proven to be an asset for companies who want to demonstrate to the LGBTQ+ community that “their corporate hearts are in the right place, and The Trevor Project is certainly a group that brands can work with to reach the community. Meanwhile, as cannabis continues to be popular in marketing, young consumers are pushing for legalization, and marijuana brands like Gumbo Brands and Seth Rogen’s Houseplant are using their business to raise awareness around decriminalization of marijuana.

While the issues that young people are most likely to be passionate about and those they want brands to be involved in are not mirror images, there is a lot of crossover, signaling yet again that these generations want brands to go to bat on the major causes that they care about–and that they expect them to make a difference.

YPulse Business users can access the full Causes/Charity & Activism behavioral report.

Don’t have a YPulse Business account? Find out more here.

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