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Millennials and Generation Z Optimistic, Inspired To Make Meaningful Change

February 10, 2021
Voting, social sector careers, volunteering all instrumental to making change

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Feb. 10, 2021 – New research conducted by Echelon Insights and commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation reveals how Millennials and Generation Z plan to make meaningful change in their lifetime. Despite recent challenges, Millennials and Gen Zers are optimistic about their future, and two-thirds believe the American Dream is achievable – consistent with June 2020 findings.

Seven in 10 young Americans believe that their generation faces obstacles but that only fuels their desire for action, as they believe their generation will overcome or eliminate those obstacles. They believe change can be made effectively in a variety of ways, with voting, starting and/or working for organizations focused on societal challenges and volunteering rising to the top. This includes creating change through the non-profit and business sectors – nearly three-quarters of respondents said they want to start their own business one day.

“The optimism and determination of Millennials and Generation Z is infectious,” said Caryl Stern, executive director of the Walton Family Foundation. “These emerging leaders are telling us they want to use their talents to make meaningful change in the world. As an organization committed to creating access to opportunity for people and communities, we welcome them with open arms.”

2,000 respondents, ranging in age from 13-23 (Generation Z) and 24-39 (Millennials), from across the United States were surveyed in January 2021. The commitment of respondents to making meaningful change is notable despite formidable challenges during their lifetime – growing up in the shadow of the terror attacks of September 11, two wars, a financial crisis and now a global pandemic. Some 48% of Black Millennials and Gen Zers say they have faced or expect to face racial inequality as a roadblock to opportunity.

“Young Americans haven’t had it easy, but instead of being defeated, they are defiant and determined – ready to bring their energy and creativity to the problems our world faces. They aren’t expecting others to change the world for them, they see themselves as having a central role to play,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson, president of Echelon Insights.

The personal responsibility that Millennials and Gen Zers feel to make change stands out. The three people or institutions they expect to play a role in bringing about positive change in their lifetime are future elected officials, themselves and their friends and peers. They believe teachers and principals from their generation will create positive change in K-12 schools, and scientists from their generation will create positive change on environment and water quality issues.

“Gen Z is all about progress – we want to keep moving,” said Josh Bellamy, student leader and conservation educator. “In my work as an environmental activist, I find that one of the most important factors to this forward momentum is listening to and working with people with different viewpoints. No one person or organization knows all the answers, so collaboration is essential for success.”

“Gen Zers are realistic about the state of the world, but optimistic about our ability to drive meaningful change in the future,” said Anya Dua, Founder of Gen Z Identity Lab. “Change will be achieved not through business as usual – it will require new thinking, new approaches and new energy. Gen Z is up to the task.”

The foundation commissioned this research in the midst of two pandemics – COVID-19 and systemic racism – which are exposing longstanding inequities in systems across the country.

About the Walton Family Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. In 2019, the foundation awarded more than $525 million in grants in support of these initiatives. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.