As older generations continue to debate everything from transgender military service to transgender restroom use to transgender participation in athletics, a rising generation of young Americans are entering public life.
And new Pew Research Center data suggests that Generation Z—born after 1996–may be surpassing even millennials in their familiarity with non-binary gender identity and their support for transgender acceptance.
In fall 2018, the non-partisan Pew Research Center surveyed over 900 teenagers and over 10,000 adults on various social issues. Their findings on Generation Z, released last week, “combine[s] data from the teens survey with data from the 18-to-21-year-old respondents in the adult survey,” as the full report indicates [PDF].
Among the most striking results: A full 35 percent of Generation Z say they personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns like “they” and “them,”as compared to a quarter of millennials who said the same. Only 16 and 12 percent of Generation X and Baby Boomers, respectively, know someone who doesn’t use “he” or “she.”
As Pew noted, 59 percent of Generation Z also say that “forms or online profiles that ask about a person’s gender should include options other than ‘man’ or ‘woman.’”
Social media services have long been moving in this direction already; in fact, in 2014, Facebook added several dozen possible terms for gender identity to its profiles.
States and other jurisdictions around the U.S. are also beginning to allow for the use of “X” in gender fields on ID rather than “M” or “F”; at the start of 2019, for example, both California and New York City began issuing documents with non-binary gender options.
On this particular issue, Generation Z goes well beyond millennials, who are split roughly evenly—at 50 percent support—on the question of whether forms should offer options besides “man” or “woman.”
Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation did not express majority support for more expansive gender options on forms and online profiles; rather, 40 percent of Gen X, 37 percent of Boomers, and 32 percent of the Silent Generation said that forms should have more than just two binary gender choices.
Although Generation Z is certainly more familiar with non-binary identity, they’re not significantly far ahead of millennials’ already-high level of LGBT support on some of the issues that Pew asked about.
As Pew notes in the report, their findings “seem to speak more to exposure than to viewpoint” given the fact that, for example, about half of both Generation Z and Millennials—50 percent and 47 percent, respectively—agreed with the proposition that “society isn’t accepting enough of people who don’t identify as a man or woman.”
Still, though, Generation Z appears to be nudging ahead of millennials on that question, if only by a few percentage points: 28 percent of millennials, for instance, said that society was “too accepting” of non-binary people; only 23 percent of Generation Z said the same. By comparison, over a third of Boomers said that society today was “too accepting” of people outside the gender binary.
Other than that, Generation Z and millennials were largely identical in their LGBT support on the questions in this latest Pew survey. Roughly equal percentages of each generation said they were comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns to refer to someone—and approximately half of both Generation Z and millennials said that same-sex marriage was “a good thing” for society, compared to about a third of Gen X that said the same.
This is far from the first indication that Generation Z could be the most fully LGBT-inclusive yet.
According to a 2014 national survey from Northeastern University, nearly three quarters support generation rights, as an Association of National Advertisers profile of Generation Z noted [PDF].
In 2016, as Broadly exclusively reported, a forecasting agency found that only 44 percent of Generation Z “always bought clothes designed for their own gender,” compared to over half of millennials who did. In 2018, market research company Ipsos Mori found that Generation Z was more passionate about LGBT equality than older generations—and less likely to identify as heterosexual themselves, as the Advocate observed.
The Pew data suggests that at this rate, 20 years from now, our current bickering over bathrooms will seem quaint to a generation that has largely accepted transgender people as a fact of life.