In the US, Gen Z currently constitutes nearly a quarter of the population and is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the nation's history. As this generation of independent thinkers transitions into their next chapter — leaving home, graduating from school and starting their first jobs — they will also begin navigating the healthcare system on their own for the first time. By 2030, Gen Z is projected to make up 30% of the workforce and their earnings will reach $2 trillion.1 Their unique preferences, expectations and needs will make them the most influential generation and their impact on healthcare will be profound.
In an effort to better understand this generation's unique experience, Able Partners and Springbank Collective launched a quantitative and qualitative research study to understand how Gen Z navigates healthcare.
Understanding the way this imaginative generation navigates the complexities of healthcare could lead to new and innovative solutions. Our hope is that our work will help inform entrepreneurs, operators, investors and policy makers who will collectively help shape how we serve this generation.
Who is Gen Z
Gen Z is the most diverse generation in US history.
In 2022, Gen Zers are between 10 and 25 years old. They are more educated than previous generations, less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to be enrolled in college.1 They are more comfortable with and accepting of diverse identities, with more than 20% of Gen Z identifying as LGBTQ.2 They are more socially-minded than prior generations, and their brand loyalties and purchase decisions support companies that are good corporate citizens.3
Their personal and political views influence their professional decisions, with 80% choosing to work for an employer that aligns with their personal values.4 Nearly 100% of Gen Z owns a smartphone5 and 55% use it for more than five hours a day.6 Gen Z is significantly more likely than any other generation to report feeling lonely, and as a result, they are known as the "loneliest generation."7
- Pew Research, On the Cusp of Adulthood and Facing an Uncertain Future: What We Know About Gen Z So Far
- Gallup, LGBT Identification in US Ticks Up to 7.1%
- BBMG, The Gen Z Reckoning
- LinkedIn, Is Gen Z the boldest generation? Its job-hunt priorities are off the charts
- The Economic Times, 98% of Gen Z now own a smartphone
- Knit, Gen Z's Device Preferences & Decision Drivers: Smartphones, Tablets & Computers - Knit
- Cigna, 2018 Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index
- Able Partners & Springbank Collective, Gen Z: Healthcare Just Hits Different Survey (N=435)
- Statista, Primary care physician needs among U.S. adults in 2019, by generation.
- American Psychological Association (APA), Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns
- Fortune, Gen Z workers will be 30% of the workforce by 2030—here's what they want from their employers
- Deloitte, The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey
- YPulse, Yes, Gen Z Is Much More Likely Than Millennials to be on TikTok - YPulse
Click and mortar
Put your phone down: the doctor will see you in person.
Gen Z may not want to go back to the office full time, but when it comes to healthcare, they value in-person care. Gen Z, often called "Zoomers," are stereotyped as the "tech-addicted" generation. But, they actually prefer convenient in-person healthcare within the four walls of brick and mortar — the majority of respondents said "in person" was their preferred way to communicate with their healthcare provider.
At the same time, they expect to have flexible communication options such as telehealth, phone calls and texts as alternatives, perhaps most relevant for follow-up after establishing an in-person connection with their provider. Their preferences ultimately blend offline experiences and online tech-enabled touchpoints, and they want quality, flexibility, quick responses and the option to easily schedule when needed. In order to meet their needs and engage this population, healthcare experiences must be designed to meet them where they are at.
Mental health is wealth
The kids are not alright: mental health is their health identity.
Gen Z has come of age in an environment rife with political, economic, social and environmental turmoil. These stressors have led to increased levels of anxiety and depression in this generation.1 Additionally, 22% of Zoomers report getting their first smartphone at age 10 or younger, and another 61% got theirs between the ages of 11 and 17.2 As a result, the vast majority of their lives has played out on social media, which has been found to negatively impact mental health.3
At the same time, this generation has grown up in an era where mental health conversations have been normalized, reducing the stigma associated with seeking out mental health services. Ironically, social media has created space for these conversations, and findings show that more than one in five teens and young adults report that social media is important for receiving support (20%), feeling less alone (21%) and expressing themselves creatively (25%).4
When it comes to Gen Z, mental health is at the core of their health identity and they are willing to pay to prioritize it. Instead of viewing healthcare solely through the traditional primary care entry point which has historically been focused on physical health, it appears that mental health will play a major role in how this generation engages – perhaps becoming their front door to the healthcare system.
- McKinsey, Addressing the unprecedented behavioral-health challenges facing Generation Z
- Tapjoy, The Mobile-First Generation: Gen Z Is Heavily Into Mobile Gaming, Shopping, and Social Media
- The Wall Street Journal, Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show
- HopeLab, TikTok, Gen Z, and Mental Health
Dear CEO, Gen Z expects mental health benefits second only to a 401K.
As Gen Z transitions from their parents' insurance to relying on their employers for health insurance coverage, this generation will expect benefits to reflect their view of holistic care. Their prioritization of retirement savings, mental health, maternal health and childcare services speaks to this generation's desire for their employer to care about them as a person, not just an employee.
Additionally, the fact that both male and female respondents prioritized the same benefits is a signal that advocacy for employer-sponsored services such as childcare may be equally shouldered in the workplace when it comes to this generation.
While Gen Z expects mental health benefits to be provided by their employer, they have not always felt supported or comfortable discussing their mental health with work colleagues. Given that behavioral health issues are the most common health condition cited by this cohort, this underscores the need for employers to prioritize mental health and design benefits that protect confidentiality in order to maximize employee engagement.
As employers evaluate how to drive healthcare utilization and incentivize healthy behaviors with Gen Z, it is evident that cost and trusted care navigation are significant barriers.
The internet's influence
TikTok, find your Doc.
Gen Z lives on the internet, so when it comes to their health, it is no surprise that one of their first destinations to source information is often social media or online forums where influencers, from micro to celebrity in status, share their own health insights often colored by their lived experiences.
Additionally, when you layer in health apps, wearables and at-home testing capabilities, Gen Z has created a multi-channel ecosystem to source information and data related to their health without necessarily needing to see a provider.
In a healthcare system where it can be prohibitively expensive to access care and at times, nearly impossible to find a local provider — 80% of counties in the US lack adequate access to services needed to maintain health2 — the internet has helped to democratize access to health education and resources.
However, the spread of misinformation and incorrect self-diagnoses can be dangerous. There is a difference between experiencing symptoms and actually receiving a formal diagnosis. How companies leverage the internet to disseminate health-related information, how regulation continues to evolve and how Gen Z uses the internet as a potential replacement for an interaction with a provider will have many implications for the healthcare system.
A DIY system
Taking charge: I've got this!
Historically, primary care providers served as the central hub directing care, but when it comes to Gen Z, the control has shifted as they take care into their own hands. This generation is "self-prescribing" to create a patchwork of personalized solutions because their needs have not been met by the traditional primary care ecosystem. In contrast to prior generations who maintained a consistent relationship with primary care providers and abided by the "doctor's orders," it seems like Gen Z wants to be in charge of their own health.
As they orchestrate their own care, decisions related to their health are heavily influenced by their social sphere. 72% of female respondents in our survey listed a social factor, like reviews or recommendations from friends & family, or influencers as a resource they used to find the right healthcare provider.
Culturally competent care
One size, doesn't fit all...
The U.S. healthcare system has historically been built for men and their health needs and only more recently retrofitted to try to address the needs of women, BIPOC and LGBTQIA populations. Due to several factors including gaps in medical training, barriers to utilization and underrepresented research, the current system does not meet the needs of these underserved demographics.
At the same time, chronic conditions are often more prevalent in these populations. Given that nearly half of Gen Z is made up of racial or ethnic minorities and 20% identify as LGBTQIA, cultural competency in the healthcare system will be required to reduce existing health disparities.
Gen Z preferences are similar to those of prior generations in that women, BIPOC and gender-diverse respondents are more likely to prioritize seeing a healthcare provider that shares a similar identity.
In addition to providers' cultural competency, socioeconomic status — a strong predictor of health outcomes — significantly impacts how a patient navigates the system.
Fewer health touchpoints: Respondents who reported lower income were significantly more likely to have not engaged with the health system in the last twelve months for primary care, gynecology or psychiatry related needs. Additionally, they were also less likely to have used health-related products and services such as vitamins and supplements, meditation apps, nutritionists, health coaches and therapy.
Less comfort, more stigma: Respondents with lower reported income were 2.5x more likely to report feeling very uncomfortable talking about their mental health.
- The Trevor Project, National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2020
- Center for American Progress, The State of the LGBTQ Community in 2020
- "Female/male" includes all respondents who identify as "female" or "male" and excludes respondents who identify as "gender variant/non-conforming". "Gender diverse" includes all respondents who identify as "gender variant/non-conforming."
The cost of healthcare
Who pays for what?
As Gen Z leaves home to start college or find their first jobs, some are transitioning onto their own health insurance for the first time, but the majority remain dependent on their parents, guardians or caregivers to cover some, if not all, health-related expenses.
Despite the support from family, this generation is already hampered by medical debt. 25% of Gen Z report skipping rent or mortgage payments because of their medical debt obligations.1 A major challenge for Gen Z is inadequate insurance: 68% of Gen Z with insurance said their medical debt was a result of their plan not covering the service they received.2
At the same time, the majority of Gen Z respondents report willingness to pay for out-of-pocket health memberships for primary care, mental health and skin/acne. Gen Z wants to prioritize their health and invest dollars behind it, but they need to be able to access services with clear pricing transparency.
Ultimately, this generation believes access to healthcare is a human right, and when Gen Z respondents were asked if they could do one radical thing to improve healthcare in the U.S. today, the common theme throughout was a desire to improve access to and full cost coverage for healthcare — more specifically, mental health services.
See Research Methodology›
Knit, a Gen Z consumer research platform.
We would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this work:
A customized online research study using a combination of quantitative and qualitative questions to collect feedback from a panel across PC, mobile and tablet-friendly interfaces.
The total sample size was N=435 mirroring the US Census on gender identity, race and ethnicity.
The sample size resulted in a 95% confidence level.
The study was fielded between April 14-June 3, 2022.
Able Partners is a women-led investment fund focused on health & wellbeing. We support visionary, early stage brands in positive living that make the daily lives of consumers healthier, happier and more meaningful.
We seek to partner with companies that are narrowing The Wellness Gap: the quantifiable delta that has grown dramatically over the past two decades as economic indicators such as GDP per capita have increased while measures of overall wellbeing, including physical and mental health, have stagnated or decreased.
We are most focused on overlooked or stigmatized opportunities that have resulted in underserved markets.
Our areas of focus include:
- Disruptive Healthcare
- Care Economy
- Consumer Wellbeing
- Connection & Community
Springbank Collective is a New York based early-stage investor in the infrastructure that enables working women and families in the real economy to thrive. Building the infrastructure for a more equal future is the next generation of gender lens investing and, we believe, a $1 trillion opportunity.
We invest across three themes:
- Reforming and re-imagining work to enable fair, flexible, and dignified careers.
- Connected, innovative solutions for children, elders, and women's health and the infrastructure to improve overall health outcomes and reduce caregiver burden.
- Services and fintech solutions that empower women and families and bring the productivity revolution into the home.