How are millennials coping with COVID-19 crisis?

The most common emotion among Indian millennials and Gen Z today is fear

How are millennials coping with COVID-19 crisis?

In his epic poem ‘Morte d’Arthur’, Lord Tennyson had the dying King Arthur say the unforgettable words that are quoted to this day: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new…”. Generations later, in another land and another social milieu, poet-singer Bob Dylan penned some words that expressed a similar idea: “The [old] order is rapidly fadin’… for the times they are a-changin’.”

Both poets spoke sceptically of an old order that had outlived its purpose and alluded to a better tomorrow under Generation Next. But would either have been as upbeat about the youth of 2020? 

Reflecting the optimism of their eras, they both had dreamt of happier days ahead with younger people at the helm – Tennyson’s sentiments shaped by the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, and Dylan’s by the social upheavals of America in the ’60s.

Contrary to that, surveys show that today’s youth – whether in the US or India – are suddenly unsure of the future, their confidence dented by the deadly pandemic.

US snapshots

An April 5–6 poll by American non-profit think tank Data for Progress found that among the people they interviewed, more than half of who had lost their jobs, lost hours, or been put on leave were under the age of 45. “While the burden of the coronavirus has fallen heaviest on the elderly, it is younger voters who are paying a higher economic toll,” the surveyors noted.

How are millennials coping with COVID-19 crisis?

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Commenting on the trend, Business Insider magazine said this was “bad news” for millennials, who are still “financially behind” thanks to the Great Recession of 2008–10, and Gen Z, who may find themselves on the same path as older millennials. Business Insider followed up the Data for Progress survey with its one of its own, and came to the conclusion that American millennials were expected to be the first generation that is “financially worse off than their parents”.

In its report published on May 6, the magazine noted that Gen Z in the US believes the pandemic has derailed their careers even before they graduated, as a recession would greet them on leaving college. College seniors and new graduates, who were dreaming of a bright career and making plans, now described their possible job situation as “worrisome” and “devastating”, the magazine said.

India snapshots

Around the same time as these surveys, the Indian arm of the London-based data analytics and market research firm YouGov, in association with The Mint and the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research (CPR), also undertook an online survey in India “to gauge the aspirations and attitudes of India’s digital natives”. The poll, called ‘Millennium Survey’, covered 10,000 respondents from March 12 to April 2 across 184 Indian towns and cities as a sample of the country’s younger workforce.

Unlike young Americans, they were not fazed by the prospect of losing their jobs on account of COVID-19. In fact, they said they would even resign if they had no job satisfaction. This was despite the fact that on March 11 – a day before the survey began – the WHO had declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic.

Young Indians were more concerned whether their jobs would involve “application of the mind” or offer a “work-life balance”; those from small towns even made their choice clear: tech firms or startups, while high-earners expected a 50% hike in five years.

In fact, another poll that LinkedIn conducted between early and mid-March threw up similar findings: 61% of millennials surveyed said they would consider changing careers. Called ‘Career Pathways Survey’, the poll found that one in three millennials (33%) has had two jobs within the last five years, and half the Gen Z respondents (50%) held their last job only for six months to a year. 

“Younger professionals are much more open to change,” a statement from LinkedIn said.

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Findings decoded

From these surveys, it appears that India’s millennials and Gen Z were more confident than their American counterparts in matters of employment prospects and career. Actually, it seems so because no comparable survey was conducted among India’s millennials and Gen Z after the pandemic peaked in the country, as was done in the US. Panic set in only when downsizing began. 

In the US, says the Washington think-tank Brookings Institution, unemployment insurance claims showed a “sizeable spike” for the week ending March 14, and contraction of the economy became pronounced by March 21. In other words, joblessness was already an issue in the US – before the Data for Progress survey was conducted on April 5–6.

In India, the surveys were conducted before the effects of the pandemic on the domestic job sector became palpable. COVID-19 hit India in end-February, the countrywide lockdown was called on March 25, and layoffs began only in April, reveals data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

According to CMIE, the rate of unemployment in March was 8.75%, the highest in a 10-month period since June 2019. However, even this looked like the “good old days” when the figures shot up to 23.52% in April and 23.48% in May. People began to realise the gravity of the situation only around this time, shows data from mobile marketing research and insights company InMobi.

InMobi’s consumer trends data reveals that awareness of the disease in India rose from 20% on March 19–22 to 24% by the next survey on April 2–6. 

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Millennial reactions

This bit of data from InMobi is interesting because it throws light on how Indians reacted as a people when COVID-19 began making its effect felt in the country – and why. Initially, according to a survey conducted over March 12–14 by the French market research consultancy Ipsos, Indians (along with a few other nationalities) saw the pandemic more as an economic problem than a health issue.

Respondents in Vietnam, China, India, and Italy showed the greatest concern over the pandemic, causing a “personal financial impact”, wrote an editor of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Covid Action Platform’ while analysing the data.

Ipsos did not clarify whether it relied on any specific age group for its  –respondents, though other surveys cited earlier have shown that in mid-March, India’s youth did not foresee any financial/job impact. Therefore, in all probability, it was the older Indians who had an economic outlook about COVID-19 in the early days – because awareness was low, as the InMobi poll suggested. 

This tallies with the findings of an independent poll by YouGov over March 10–15 – almost coinciding with the Ipsos poll – that attempted to gauge India’s “level of fear” over the virus. This survey showed that Indian millennials and Gen Z were more afraid of infections than Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964, those aged 55 or older).

Over half the Baby Boomers polled said they were not afraid of being infected. This figure was only 32% for millennials and 37% for Gen Z respondents.

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Taking guard

It is not as if millennials and Gen Z were totally oblivious to the economic angle of COVID-19. A joint survey by YouGov, Mint, and CPR in March–April showed that one in four young Indian adults were averse to marriage and raising a family of their own, even though they seemed upbeat about their jobs. The surveyors believe this reluctance stemmed from financial insecurity due to the pandemic.

This was also endorsed by InMobi in its April 2–6 survey report, which said, “The most common emotion among millennials (and Gen Z) today is fear.” So much so that a small percentage of millennials (17%) has also begun upskilling themselves by taking online courses.

An Economic Times survey in early May found this figure to be even higher – almost 60%. “Of the respondents who have upskilled during the lockdown were those with a work experience of 10–14 years,” it said. This would place them in the 36–40 age group.It seems that as time progresses, they have begun exploring other avenues as well, having considered the personal economic implications of the disease.

Real estate consultancy Anarock says its consumer sentiment survey conducted during April 20–27 showed that millennials are keen on buying a residential property. While 48% of respondents believed residential real estate was the best investment option during COVID-19, Anarock said 55% of these were millennials, 68% of who wanted to buy property for their end-use.

In June, a Max Bupa Health Insurance survey found that among the millennials interested in health cover, 61% wanted a plan that covered coronavirus, as opposed to 37% before the disease swept across India.

Last words

The YouGov-Mint-CPR millennial survey showed that unlike in the US, millennials in India believe they have a better life than their parents did, and want to own houses and cars as much as the previous generation did. However, as this poll was taken between mid-March and early April, the mood of India’s youth brigade in June might be a bit more sombre than it was in March. Seen against this backdrop, the June survey by Max Bupa should reflect a truer picture – one of the cautious and worried millennial. Read this 5 Resolutions every millennial should make.


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