A global pandemic, ongoing political polarization, wars, financial crises, gun violence, climate change and decades-high inflation. Generation Z is often characterized for its pessimism—and perhaps for good reason.

Perhaps it’s also no surprise why this generation places such uniquely high value on social and environmental issues, and why these issues affect what brands Gen Z members are loyal to.

According to a new study by Milwaukee-based advertising agency Hoffman York, understanding these habits underscores the need for brands to craft marketing strategies that align with the values of this cohort born between 1997 and 2012, which now accounts for the second-largest generation and commands $360 billion in buying power.

The study, which surveyed Gen Z members in an attempt to gather their insights on everything from brands to social media use to attitudes surrounding travel, employment and work, found that 75 percent of Gen Zers said they'd pay a premium for environmentally friendly products, and 71 percent said they'd do the same for products that used recycled materials. More than two-thirds (68 percent) said they'd pay more for organic food. Gen Zers are also more likely to follow sustainability practices (24 percent) and support brands that donate to causes they care about (21 percent). Finally, they’re most likely to work for a company that invests in DEI initiatives (30 percent).

So, why does this generation place such a premium on supporting products and services that align with their values? The study suggests that it’s a reflection of living in a world fraught with ever-present challenges. The survey discovered that less than a third (31 percent) of Gen Z respondents reported being happy, and only about the same number (32 percent) said they're optimistic about the future. Only 16 percent said they’re optimistic about the future of the country.

Gen Z members were asked: How much of a premium would you pay for products within each of the following categories?

Of course, Gen Z’s views are informed by a heavy, daily diet of social media, and almost half (42 percent) of these digital natives cited social media platforms as their primary source for news, underscoring its significance for marketers as a channel by which this cohort engages with content and brands. An overwhelming majority of Gen Zers reported using YouTube (88 percent), Instagram (81 percent), TikTok (80 percent) and Snapchat (78 percent). As such, social media makes a pronounced impact on what brands they’ll buy. Gen Z members are also far more likely to say that they’ll buy a product if an influencer or celebrity uses it (23 percent) or if it was designed by an influencer or celebrity (19 percent). More than a quarter (26 percent) said they like it when brands and retailers provide personal recommendations.

Gen Z members are also more likely to admit that social media negatively impacts their mental health (29 percent). Nearly a third (32 percent) even consider themselves addicted to it. Oddly, the same number (32 percent) also said they view social media as something that’s generally positive.

Perhaps the most novel finding of this study, however, was the discovery that, unlike their Millennial elders, Gen Z appears to enjoy being in the office. Only a third (33 percent) of respondents reported working remotely, and only 41 percent said they would rather work from home. Gen Z also appears to prefer keeping coworkers and friends separate, as only 36 percent said it’s important to be friends with their colleagues.

Hoffman York’s study, “Gen Z Unraveled: A Marketer’s Guide to Understanding the Misunderstood Generation,” surveyed more than 1,300 U.S. residents who identified as Gen Z members. The survey was fielded in July 2023 by research company Cint.