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How Young Europeans Are Spending Their Free Time

May 24 2022

Young Europeans are finally free to spend their time doing activities outside of the home. So what do they want to do now?


TL;DR

  • Media consumption is the top way young Europeans spend their free time, with music, social media, and videos dominating their list of activities
  • Gen Z is even more likely to be spending their free time with screen-centric media, including watching social media videos and (of course) gaming
  • But young Europeans are also getting out of the house and exercising—especially Millennials

The activities young consumers could do in their free time were severely limited over the past two years as lockdowns kept them inside and isolated. Going to the movies? Nope. Hitting a new restaurant with friends? Don’t think so. Team sports? Forget about it. Instead, young consumers had to fill their time with things that could be done in the comfort (or confines) of their homes, leading them to pick up new hobbies, learn new skills, and, of course, up their screentime a lot. But the pandemic also wore on young people’s mental health, causing them to pay even closer attention to their inner lives and emotional states—and to spend their free time focused on activities aimed at supporting their mental wellbeing.

Now that life is returning to normal, the things young consumers can do in their free time have opened back up, too. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that their time is being spent any differently. In our recent WE Hobbies and Passions report, we asked young Europeans what they regularly do in their free time for pleasure. Out of a list of nearly 30 activities, these are the top 15 things they say they’re doing to fill their free time:

How They’re Spending Their Free Time
Among 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe

  1. Listening to music
  2. Using social media
  3. Watching YouTube videos
  4. Watching movies 
  5. Exercising
  6. Getting fresh air / going for a walk 
  7. Video gaming
  8. Cooking / baking
  9. Watching videos on social media platforms
  10. Online shopping
  11. Watching TV shows
  12. Relaxing / do as little as possible
  13. Reading books / e-books
  14. Going for a jog / run outside
  15. Catching up on news / current events


Young consumers are still spending most of their free time consuming media

Let’s start with the overview: despite the world opening back up, media consumption is filling young Europeans’ free time. We already know that the pandemic sent young Europeans’ media consumption soaring, and YPulse data shows that this may be the new norm. After all, our recent WE Media Consumption report shows young Europeans are watching more video content than ever, and our social media monitor found that these gens are scrolling their feeds more, too. Now, media dominates the top things 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe spend their free time doing for pleasure: eight of the top 15 things they’re doing for pleasure are media-focused, including the top four activities, indicating that even in a post-COVID world, screentime will still fill their time.

Music is the top activity they’re doing for pleasure

Gen Z and Millennials consistently tell us that music is an important part of their lives, and it’s a top way they’re spending their free time, too. In fact, half of young Europeans are doing this for pleasure, which isn’t too surprising: these gens tell YPulse that music is also their top hobby right now, a top way they maintain their mental health, and the top pop culture moments they care about. In other words—music is a big deal for these gens, and it’s a top way they’re spending their time.

Scrolling social media and watching videos are also top free-time activities

After listening to music, using social media is the top activity young Europeans are doing for pleasure in their free time, followed by watching YouTube videos and watching movies. Again, this isn’t too surprising—as mentioned above, young Europeans’ social media and video consumption have risen in the past few months, and that’s partially because social media is increasingly becoming the place young consumers turn for entertaining video content. Our WE Social Media Behavior report found that more than half of young Europeans say that entertaining content is a top reason they visit the social media platforms they use, and our recent WE Media Consumption report shows that social media is now the top place they’re consuming video content, beating out SVODs. Gen Z is even more likely to say they’re watching social media videos in their free time:

Driving this, of course, is the meteoric rise of TikTok, which the majority of Gen Z is using and a rising number of Millennials are, too. Now, TikTok is the No. 2 top service Gen Z is using to watch video content weekly or more often, up from No. 4 in 2021—and it’s filling their free time, too.

Gaming has become a major pastime, especially for Gen Z

Video games were a big deal even before COVID, but the long days (and weeks and months) spent in lockdowns spurred Gen Z and Millennials in Western Europe to spend even more time in these virtual worlds than ever before to escape their boredom as well as support their mental health and spend time with friends. YPulse’s WE gaming survey found that 94% of young Europeans play some form of video games, and our WE TV and entertainment survey found that 76% of young European gamers plan to play video games as much or more after the threat of COVID has passed. Meanwhile, four in five young Europeans who play games say they’ve spent money on or inside video games in the past year, highlighting what we’ve said for a while: the future of marketing is inside video games (and, of course, the metaverse).

But while both gens are regularly picking up their controllers, gaming is a bigger interest for Gen Z: while gaming comes in at No. 9 for Millennials, it’s the fifth biggest activity Gen Z is doing in their free time—and a very close No. 2 among Gen Z males.

But they’re getting outside and exercising, too

Before the pandemic, we called young consumers the Wellness Intensified generation for their commitment to staying fit and healthy. And while that became more difficult during lockdowns, at-home exercise did take off among young Europeans who sought new ways to keep in shape—and cope with the stress of a global health crisis. More than any other activity, Gen Z and Millennials in Western Europe tell YPulse they exercise to maintain / improve their mental health. Now, it’s one of the top things they’re doing for pleasure in their free time—and even more so among Millennials. While they’re spending most of their time on their screens, these gens are taking care of themselves and doing analog activities, too.

YPulse Western Europe Business users can access the full WE Hobbies and Passions behavioral report and data here.

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

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