Melissa Deckman, Ph.D., is the CEO of PRRI and a political scientist who studies the impact of gender, religion, and age on public opinion and political behavior.
Generation Z is the most racially diverse generation in American history, with roughly 1 in 2 Gen Zers identifying as non-white. PRRI’s recent report on Generation Z shows that, on numerous fronts, non-white Gen Z Americans, both teens and adults, have distinct attitudes and experiences compared with their white counterparts. For instance, non-white Gen Zers are far less likely to trust the police than their white counterparts and are far more likely to report that they have experienced hostility or discrimination based on their race or ethnicity.
PRRI’s 2022 American Bubbles Survey found that when Americans have more diverse social networks, in terms of race, party, or religion, they have increased willingness to exhibit tolerance, embrace inclusivity, and support the foundations of a pluralistic democracy. Among other findings, white Americans who have just one non-white friend among their social networks are far more likely to believe that the legacy of slavery and discrimination still have an impact on the lives of Black Americans; they are also more likely to prefer living in a racially diverse nation.
It turns that this diversity effect is present for younger white Americans, too, although younger Americans have already begun to experience social networks that are far more diverse than their parents’ or grandparents’ generations. Returning to the 2022 American Bubbles Survey, 43% of all Americans aged 18-29 report a friendship network with some racial or ethnic diversity, but that percentage drops among older Americans to 37% of Americans aged 30-49, 32% of Americans aged 50-64, and 24% of Americans aged 65 or older.
Younger white Americans aged 18-29 have social networks that are less diverse than their non-white counterparts, with 36% reporting some racial diversity in their friendship groups compared with 52% of non-white Americans aged 18-29.
However, younger white Americans (54%) are more than ten percentage points less likely than older white Americans to have all white friendship networks, including Americans aged 30-49 (66%), 50-64 (69%), and 65 or older (74%).
Our Gen Z survey shows that non-white Zoomers are far more likely to experience race-based hostility or discrimination than their white counterparts. Previously, our American Bubbles Survey had asked Americans about the persistence of racism in America and its link to past racial discrimination and slavery. We found that white Americans whose social networks included only other white people (42%) are less likely than those whose social networks include at least one non-white person (58%) to agree that the legacy of slavery and discrimination still impact the lives of Black Americans today.
Looking at white Americans’ beliefs on this topic by age group, among white Americans aged 65 and older, the impact of a diverse friendship group has a relatively slight impact on their views about lingering impact of slavery and discrimination. Yet, among younger white Americans, having a more diverse friendship group makes white Americans more likely recognize the impact of slavery and discrimination on the economic conditions of Black Americans today. Among the youngest cohort, 63% of white Americans aged 18-29 with at least one non-white friend recognize the impact of past discrimination on the economic situation of Black Americans today, compared with just 52% among white Americans 18-29 whose social networks are entirely white.
In 2022, we asked Americans their views regarding racial pluralism, asking them to place themselves on a scale where one end is the statement “I would prefer the U.S. to be made up of people from all over the world” and the other end is the statement “I would prefer the U.S. to be a nation primarily made up of people of Western European heritage.” Overall, nearly six in ten Americans (59%) mostly agree that the U.S. should be a diverse country made up of people from all over the world. One-third (33%) place themselves in the middle of the scale, while just 7% say they would mostly prefer the U.S. to be made up of people of Western European heritage.
Nationally, white Americans (54%) are less likely than AAPI Americans (73%), Black Americans (70%), multiracial Americans (65%), and Hispanic Americans (65%) to express a preference for racial diversity. White Americans whose friendship networks include only white people are less likely to prefer a racially diverse nation than those who have at least one non-white person in their social networks (51% vs. 63%). The diversity effect also spans age groups. We see white Americans aged 18-29 who have only other white friends in their core social networks are even more likely to express a preference for living in a racially diverse nation than white Americans overall — 58% versus 54%. Yet, 7 in 10 white Americans 18-29 with at least one non-white friends express a higher preference for racial diversity than every older cohort of white Americans with at least one non-white friend.