Hertz, a professor of decision science at University College London, dubs them “Generation Katniss.” She named the group -- also known as Generation Z, ages 13 to 20 -- after the Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, a skilled archer who fought for justice in the top-selling dystopian series that became a blockbuster franchise.
The world that molded today’s teenage girls, she argues, has similarities to Panem, the fictional nation that rules North America in the Hunger Game series.
“They’ve been shaped by this world of existential danger and threat which is now piped into their smartphones: the beheadings on Facebook, the tragedy on Twitter feeds,” said Hertz, who presented her results, conducted with help from Survey Monkey, at the Women in the World Summit this week in New York City.
Some highlights: Seventy-five percent of the young respondents said they worry about terrorism, Hertz said. Sixty-six percent are concerned about climate change. Seventy percent fear accumulating debt. Eighty five percent reported having anxiety about finding a job.
“When I was their age, I was reading Nancy Drew,” said Gillian Tett, managing director of the US Financial Times. “But they’re reading about dystopias and evil governments.”
There’s a silver lining amid the apocalyptic horror, said Hertz, who personally interviewed 25 girls for the research. She said the young women in the survey seem motivated to curb social and economic inequality. They value diversity. When asked how they describe themselves, Hertz said, the most common response was “unique.”
Ninety percent of the survey group said they support transgender rights. Only four percent said they trust big corporations to “do the right thing.”
“These girls are horrified at the persistence of gender pay gaps,” Hertz said. “It’s incredible. You talk to a teenage girl about gender pay, and they've got facts and figures at their fingertips. One girl asked me, ‘Did you know women get paid seventy five cents on the dollar compared to men?’”
Heightened awareness may stem from non-stop media consumption, the result of smartphones seemingly glued to many young hands. Seeing problems may create more desire to solve them. But the idealism combined with the anxiety—is it a window into the future? Or just teenage angst?
A body of academic literature on generational shifts shows moods change but values endure. Most basic outlooks are set fairly early on in life, according to one well-known longitudinal study of Bennington College women: “Through late childhood and early adolescence, attitudes are relatively malleable…with the potential for dramatic change possible in late adolescence or early adulthood. [B]ut greater stability sets in at some early point, and attitudes tend to be increasingly persistent as people age.”
If Generation Katniss attitudes persist, Hertz said, the role of women in society will continue evolving.
“This generation celebrates difference, diversity, their own independence,” she said. “They want to create, lead and be heard.”