Generation Z (or simply Gen Z) is the generation that follows the Millennials and includes everyone born from the mid to late ‘90s till early 2010.
Our aim is to question the generalised and derogatory terms often used to describe Gen Z members, to understand their characteristic traits and opinions and to empower their voices.
The project started in January 2022. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nowadays, in Greece too, discussions regarding young people have come to the forefront, as part of the public discourse, as well as at an academic level, with the production of primary data by institutions and institutes, and also thanks to relevant scientific articles. Eteron’s research on Gen Z reflects the rekindled researchers’ interest in young people, and is based in part on the (unspoken) assumption that generational succession is a driving factor for social and political change.1
This paper’s intention is to comment on the research’s main findings focusing on the gender aspect, the ways it interacts with age and generation factors and its (possible) significance regarding the shaping of different participatory practices and attitudes.
Disclaimer: Due to the way that gender is represented in the questionnaire of this survey (as well as in those of several other surveys), which insists on a binary divide, gender is used here as a dichotomous variable (with two values, woman-man), without this being in any way an epistemological or political assumption that the author agrees with.
The structure of gender relations in any society, as a system of social hierarchy and classification, constitutes one of the “heavy” variables that influence citizens’ political behaviour, since it constitutes (or rather constituted, as we shall see below) two differentiated patterns of political participation, with women historically represented as lagging behind men. This finding does not only refer to the limited presence of women among global political elites,2 but rather is a more general assessment of their political participation in institutional and non-institutional forms of action, as well as in other measures of political behaviour. This “gender/activism gap” has been attributed, among other things, to a lack of symbolic and material resources, institutional factors, the (unequal) impact of the life cycle, and gender-differentiated socialisation, which often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.3
More recent critical approaches stress the significance of the gender bias4 that permeates the classical indicators of political participation, which emphasise practices in which men traditionally have higher rates of involvement. A question therefore arises as to how traditional political science has approached the issue of gender inequality. Usually, gender differences in political behaviour were examined with the “male” model of political participation as a fixed reference point and standard of comparison, by exaggerating the differences between men and women and treating them in an essentialist way, thus reproducing a binary and hierarchical conception of gender.5
The most recent empirical data indicate – in general terms – a narrowing of the gender gap, calling into question the validity of many of the above established assumptions of political science regarding modern Western societies. Gender differentials have almost disappeared with respect to voting6 (at least in first-order elections7 ),but still exist for other forms of institutional political participation (e.g. political party and union membership), as well as broader measures of engagement in the political process, such as political interest and a sense of subjective political efficacy.8
However, when it comes to new, non-institutional forms of participation, such as political consumerism (i.e. boycotting products for political, ethical or environmental reasons and, conversely, choosing certain products/companies as a reward) and online activism, the gender gap seems to be narrowing, even reversing. Women are overrepresented in said forms that link politics to everyday life, thus challenging the strict distinction between public and private and bypassing the traditional institutional channels that excluded them from the political process.9
In Greece, gender has been an important factor in differentiating patterns of politicisation, especially when it comes to expressing political interest and engaging in institutional participatory practices. In fact, the interplay between gender and age seems to determine – or to have done so until very recently – different ways people associate with politics, with senior women showing not only less (predisposition to) participation, but also a greater distance from politics in general10.This is a consequence of the time lag in the acquisition of political rights, but also of a rather traditional system of gender relations, which perpetuates gender inequalities and stereotypical gender roles.
However, the rapid socio-economic transformations and the consequent changes in the system of gender relations have led to a convergence of male and female politicisation models and the refutation of many common political certainties and stereotypes in Greece as well. A survey conducted as early as 2006 reflects the partial narrowing of the gender gap in the political behaviour of young women and men, especially when taking into account the influence of the participants’ educational level.11 The conjuncture of the economic crisis will accentuate such developments, offering an additional participatory outlet through the mobilisations against the austerity measures and the various civil disobedience actions, in which women participate en masse.12
Also, in Greece too, one of the most common electoral behaviour assumptions, namely that women’s vote tends to be more conservative, has proved to be untrue.13 Overall, the existence of greater intergenerational rather than intra-generational differences can now be attested, at least in the Athens greater area, thus confirming a hypothesis suggesting the emergence of a new politicisation pattern amongst young people.
Based on the above and taking into account some widely accepted characteristics of zoomers (a highly educated generation that is characterised by strong individualisation and insecurity; a “woke” generation, which is socially progressive and is concerned about new topics), it makes sense to expect a decrease in the importance that gender has as a differentiating factor of young people’s political participation. This hypothesis is largely confirmed, since Eteron’s research reveals relatively small gender differentials, thus disproving another stereotype, that of women’s reduced interest and participation in politics.
However, the areas where differences are identified and manifested are not negligible, since they show that there are distinct ways and areas of manifesting their participatory intention and suggest that there are qualitative rather than quantitative differences in the politicisation of young men and women, thus confirming the relevant literature.14
Regarding the issues of concern to zoomers, Eteron’s research findings confirm the trends observed internationally, namely that Gen Z as a generation is more progressive, even socially radical, and expresses concerns that extend to new fields of interest and politicisation, such as the environmental crisis. More specifically, young women aged 16-25 seem to be slightly more concerned than men of the same age regarding the issue of climate change (62.5% are very and extremely concerned, compared to 55.8% of the men), while, as expected, they express overwhelming agreement with the content and objectives of the #metoo movement in Greece (91.8% of women in the sample and 81.1% of men strongly or fairly agree).
Along similar lines, the majority of women zoomers agrees with the mobilisations against the establishment of a police force that would patrol universities and campuses (54.7%), significantly more so than men zoomers (40.6%). It is worth noting that the online campaign/ hashtag #they_are_not_innocent (#δενειναιαθωοι), regarding the conviction of Golden Dawn as a criminal organisation, gathers equally high support rates (although less high than one might expect a year after the Supreme Court’s conviction ruling) in both men and women (almost 73%).
When trying to analyse zoomers’ ideological constitution, the main finding, as already mentioned in the relevant dialogue on Eteron’s research15, concerns the small percentage of those who would reply to that particular question: more specifically, 20% of the participants refuse to place themselves on the axis, stating that the distinction between the Left and the Right is no longer relevant, while a further 12.5% choose not to answer the question. At the same time, if we take into consideration the high response rate that values 5 and 6 on the axis gather (22.8%),16 (a fact that may indicate not so much that participants place themselves at the centre of the axis, but rather an indirect refusal or inability for self-placement), questions arise regarding the classificatory function and the interpretative power of the axis, thus confirming findings of other relevant studies.17 Of the 67.6% who answered the relevant question, the general conclusion is that there’s a left or rather left-leaning self-placement, as already emphasised, with 28.9% of the women and 23.9% of the men placing themselves on the left of the axis (positions 1-4).
As for right-wing self-placement, it is significantly more prevalent among the male participants in the survey (21% of men placed themselves in positions 7-10 and 14.8% of women), a fact which is in line with the exit polls conducted in recent years confirming the mass vote for left-wing parties by (especially young) women. Interestingly, however, female zoomers, although explicitly reject the Left-Right axis in similar proportions to men, refuse to answer that specific question in almost double the proportion (15.7% of the women refused to answer compared to 8.8% of the men).
Interest in following current affairs appears to be generally high, with 55% of participants stating that they are very or extremely interested. Women and men are informed by online news sites to an equal extent, and internet use seems to be at similar levels, with the majority stating they spend more than 5 hours per day online. There are differences in the qualitative characteristics of internet use, though, and, more specifically, in the type of social media they prefer. Women use Instagram more than men (81.3% compared to 68.1%) and men use Twitter and YouTube more than women (2% compared to 7.2% and 35.5% compared to 44.2%, respectively). Now, regarding the credibility of news websites and social media as sources of information, this is generally low, especially for the latter, and women appear to trust them less so than men.
Moving on to actions of practical political participation, its most obvious form, that of voting in elections, is very popular, regardless of gender: more than 84% of the participants said that they intend to vote in the next elections. The wide acceptability of voting within Greek political culture is also confirmed by past surveys.18 In terms of the rest of the repertoire of live political action, participation in a demonstration, march and protest is the most popular one (25.6%), followed by financial contribution to a political/social event or festival (21.1%), participation in a political party (9.5%) and participation in neighbourhood collectives (7.3%). The only significant gender difference here is found when it comes to rates of young people that are members of a political party or youth organisation: male zoomers are twice as likely as female zoomers to sign up as members of a political party (12.3% and 6.3% respectively), a percentage that is particularly high, when taking into account the age of the participants in the survey.
Finally, the findings regarding the generally low “political use” of the Internet by a generation of digital natives are interesting. Almost 18% follow accounts of politicians on social media and the relevant percentage reaches 40% when it comes to NGO accounts. When it comes to more “active” online activities, about 22% of respondents state that they share posts with political content (e.g. posts from politicians, political parties, NGOs, media outlets, or other internet users) and 21% make their own political posts. In this section, though, there is a more pronounced gender differentiation. Women zoomers follow more NGO accounts and (a lot) less politicians and political parties on social media, while the most interesting finding concerns the significantly smaller percentage of women who post their own “political” content: the rate is 15.2% compared to 26.8% of men who engage in such an activity.
This is a recurring pattern in Eteron’s research, here replicated in the digital environment. In this particular case, the disparity is not about access itself, but rather about qualitative characteristics and confidence in the use of the internet, which is also evident from the relevant existing literature.19
The figures are similar when it comes to the issue of fake news, where more women state that they have been victims of fake news compared to men (76.6% and 65.9% respectively), while, at the same time, they seem to have considerably less confidence in their ability to detect fake news (80.4% compared to 69.5% of the men).
In conclusion, the general picture that emerges from the research findings confirms that gender is becoming a less important differentiating factor in zoomers’ political behaviour. The convergence, however, primarily concerns the level of participatory disposition and practical political participation, while a more in-depth investigation reveals some qualitative differences in the way women and men relate to politics. More specifically, they seem to follow different paths of engagement with political processes, with women largely bypassing institutional forms of inclusion, such as party membership, while appearing to participate equally in other, non-institutional forms and being more attracted to NGOs. At the same time, they appear to be more left-leaning (whatever that may mean) and socially progressive than men on a range of issues, ranging from gender equality to the establishment of a university police force.
What still seems to differentiate women and men zoomers significantly is their stance concerning practices that are characterised by greater public exposure, a pattern that is reproduced in the digital environment: women are less likely to post their own political content and less likely to use more “political” social media, such as Twitter. Furthermore, they appear to have less confidence in their abilities to identify fake news despite cross-checking sources more often than men; or, if we reverse the perspective, men tend to overestimate their respective abilities. Therefore, we see that gender-determined expectations continue to create inequalities in the expression of politicisation, where women’s occasionally reduced engagement does not indicate a lack of knowledge, skills or interest. At the same time, measurement tools continue to be male-centric, often leading to an incomplete account of the participation of women who may be engaged through alternative networks of socialisation and politicisation, both offline and online (e.g. they may be more active in closed groups or group chats on social media).
Finally, there are some additional limitations to our conclusions: on the one hand, the focus of the sample on zoomers does not allow comparisons with other generations and, furthermore, there is no possibility to examine the effect of different variables such as gender and place of residence, which evidence suggest that they lead to significant differences. Lastly, another aspect to be taken into account is the future impact of the life-cycle of young people’s politicisation, since numerous studies have shown that the transition to the ‘family-intensive’ stages of life has an unequal impact on women and men, who usually assume different roles.20 Although we can justifiably talk about a new and distinct pattern of zoomer politicisation in Greece, the question remains open whether this concerns all young people aged 16-25 or whether it is limited to those living in Athens and/or other large urban centres, and also whether the image of convergence will persist as a characteristic trait of a generation.