One of the many troubling trends exposed by the pandemic is the “curious lack of rebelliousness among young people”, says Allison Schrager in Bloomberg. School and university used to be all about testing boundaries and breaking rules. Yet when American classrooms reopened after lockdown with “fairly draconian Covid restrictions”, students meekly accepted the new rules rather than pushing back. And that was just the latest example of Gen Z – those aged between 10 and 25 – being less rebellious than previous generations. Compared to teens 40 years ago, they’re less likely to drink, have sex or get a driving licence.
This is good news in some respects: there’s less teenage pregnancy, for a start. But we shouldn’t celebrate an unwillingness to experiment and rebel. It’s unhealthy on an individual level: “A little defiance is important for psychological development.” And it’s bad news for the economy. Innovation and entrepreneurship – the key drivers of economic growth – are all about challenging conventional wisdom. The fewer people willing to take risks and disrupt things, the less dynamic society becomes. Sure, sometimes rebelliousness will “blow up in your face” – kids will obviously make stupid decisions. But that’s just part of growing up. As Covid recedes we’re going to need all the “innovators and barrier crashers” we can get. Let’s hope Gen Zs find their rebellious streak.