Gen Z: A Generation Pharma Needs To Understand

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Generation Z makes up 40% of US consumers1, and over 20% of this age group have taken a prescription medication in the past 30 days2, representing a growing opportunity for healthcare and pharma brands. Knowing how to connect with this audience and gain their trust will be key to form positive, long-lasting brand relationships.

Who is Gen Z?

Gen Z includes those born between ~1995-2010. They are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation with (52%) being non-Hispanic white, and one-in-four being Hispanic, 14% black, 6% Asian and are on track to be the most educated generation3.


Truth & transparency4 Gen Z is made up of purpose-driven people, who prefer to use their purchasing power with brands who align with their values. They want brands to be transparent about what they stand for and will seek out the deeper truth for themselves if they feel something isn’t completely open/ honest. In order to gain loyalty and connection, Gen Z brands cannot sit on the sidelines of issues and instead must take a stand. 72% of Gen Z says that they are more likely to buy from a company that contributes to social causes. Unsurprisingly, Gen Z tends to distrust larger institutions5 or big brands, and brand loyalty is declining in this generation with 51% of 18- to 21-year-olds saying they would like to try out different items even when they know there's one they like.

Authenticity4 Gen Z grew up watching their feeds flooded with highly curated, and aesthetic images. Gen Z is more likely to rebel against the idea of curated perfection in favor of something more genuine. 82% of Gen Z says they trust a company more if they use real customers in their advertising and almost half of Gen Z has made a purchase based on the recommendation of an influencer which is much higher than that of  the general population (at 26%)6.

Community- Gen Z has grown up in a highly virtual world where connection with others is simultaneously abundant and scarce. On one hand finding others to talk with has never been easier with the rise of social media, but less in-person interaction has also led to loneliness7 among younger age groups. Gen Z uses the internet to try and form real connections with 66% saying they believe the internet will bring people closer4 together. They use social media as a place to connect, engage in genuine discourse, and learn from those around them.

Learning Preferences

Gen Z has grown up with endless information at their fingertips8. They grew up in a world where social media already existed and are the first true digital natives. They can find almost anything with a quick Google search and learn best when they have information that is easily accessible (especially via mobile).

Gen Z seeks information online and on social media, especially from their peers. Almost half of Gen Z adults get most of their news from social media, compared to 17% for all other adults and only 12% get most of their news on television, compared to 42% of all other adults9. This generation uses their digital expertise when it comes to healthcare, they are the most likely to find a provider online. 34% of 18–29-year-olds were willing to break a referral from a physican to see a specialist they chose (compared to 18% of 30–49-year-olds and 7.5% of 50-64-year-olds)10.

Since Gen Z has grown up surrounded by technology and social media, they are more skeptical of the information they see online and are often better at spotting and less likely to share misinformation when compared to older generations11. They are also used to seeing ads and don’t tend to rely on them. Because of this they are more critical of traditional advertising and communication methods and tend to rely on them to decide what to buy. For example, Gen Z won’t look as much at paid media when compared to something that feels more organic such as influencer marketing or peer opinions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed where Gen Z goes to find health information. 43% of 18–24-year-olds12 are now relying more on social media to stay informed about their health when compared to pre pandemic. 34% are relying less on online health websites and news sources, 21% are relying less on their doctors and 18% are relying less on their pharmacists.

Members of Gen Z also know how to use technology to their advantage when it comes to learning and entertainment and to try and “train” algorithms to show them the type of content they want to see, with 46% of college students saying that they purposefully like, comment and share content to receive the kind of content they want in the future9.

Opportunities for Healthcare Brands

Gen Z want to be active partners when it comes to decisions about their health. They are not willing to sit on the sidelines while a doctor comes up with a plan. They value their health and want to be part of the process. They take charge of their health and, along with millennials, are the generation that is most interested in tracking their health data via wearables. They also are most likely out of all the generations to try new healthcare technology and innovations, such as telemedicine.

Additionally, gen Z values health outside of a traditional model of healthcare. They value a more interdisciplinary approach and consider mental health along with prevention just as important as treating health conditions.

Make it novel- Gen Z has always had access to technology and they tend to see digital as the norm, since they have come to expect it, brands must go above and beyond simply making content digitally accessible and aim to make digital communications increasingly new and innovative. Gen Z seeks out options and are the most likely age group to switch PCPs. They are also the most comfortable with digital healthcare encounters- 41% of Gen Z prefers telemedicine over in-person healthcare, compared to 33% of millennials and 9% of baby boomers10.

Make it instant- In terms of learning, Gen Z prefers short interactive media such as videos. They value having health information easily accessible and are most likely to track their own health information using technology like wearables13. They also prefer to engage with apps and/ or content and platforms that are ‘self-service and prefer to schedule appointments and communicate with doctors via email, texting and apps14. They have grown up used to this type of instant response in other areas and have grown to expect it in healthcare as a result. This type of instant response also reinforces the health behaviors of Gen Z, which can impact the likelihood they continue with certain products and services.

Make it connected- As a generation that has grown up with technology, a seamless digital user experience is expected. Gen Z uses technology to go beyond the surface and seeks out authenticity, dialogue, and helping relationships rather than a more curated experience. Looking for this authenticity through technology leads them to seek connection. Social proof defines the idea that people tend to look to others for permission to try something new. This is why using peers, user generated content, and/ or micro influencers can be successful with this group. 52% of Generation Z says they trust the influencers15 they follow. Additionally, Gen Z is most likely to read reviews when in comes to finding healthcare providers.

Make it holistic- since gen Z defines health in a broader sense than other generations, use models like the dimensions of wellness to incorporate different aspects of health outside of just physical using models such as the dimensions of wellness. (see Continuously Supporting Patients for a dimensions of wellness explanation). Gen Z also holds brands to a very high standard, expecting their actions to say something bigger outside of just the products they sell. Brands should consider aligning their messaging with relevant social issues in an authentic and values driven way.