To say that 2020 has been a rough year for the three million Australians aged 16 to 24 is an understatement. They began the year with another “once in a generation” bushfire and rolled into a global pandemic that upended their education, social lives and economic future.

How do they feel the events of 2020 have affected them? What are their expectations for the future? And how is their experience of the world today shaping their plans, beliefs, and attitudes when they contemplate life beyond 2020?

To gain further understanding into these questions and to get a sense of the priorities for Australian youth in 2021, our global insights team surveyed 8,160 16 to 24s in over 15 countries, along with remote video interviews.

Some of their responses were not that surprising, after all for most of us 2020 has presented many challenges. But their priorities have changed and with that comes the realization that the youth marketing strategies of 2019 are no longer fit for purpose.

So how are Australian youth holding up? They’re stressed and less happy. Some 56% of Australian youth say they’re feeling more stressed, up 20 points from 2017 and 10 points higher than the global average.

And only 46% say they’re happy, down 18 points from 2017, and six points lower than the global average.

Many reasons for their stress and unhappiness

The majority of Australians 16 to 24 (84%) had their plans for 2020 disrupted, though it’s not all due to Covid-19.Over half (53%) say their lives have been impacted by the Black Lives Matter anti-racist movements and protests against police brutality, 45% have been impacted by natural disasters and climate change protests, and 23% have been impacted by political events. War (16%) and terrorism (11%) have only added to the disruption.

Security and stability are higher priorities

While the forces of 2020 are mostly out of their control, Australian youth have used this year as a time for reflection and consolidation. More than half (52%) have reviewed their spending habits, 29% have changed the direction of their education and 24% have changed the direction of their career.

While Australian youth think society’s priorities should be the environment (#1), systemic racism (#2) and the economy (#3), the uncertain world has changed youth’s priorities for themselves.

Keeping themselves and their loved ones safe from harm is Australian youth’s #1 priority for the next 10 years, followed by having a stable job, being comfortable with who they are, their mental health, and having a strong family unit.

Youth are deeply focused on security and stability, not just the superficial parts of life. To genuinely and successfully talk to youth in 2020, it’s important for brands to keep that in mind.

Mental and physical health rise in importance

Some 81% of youth agree that health (both mental and physical) will be a bigger focus in people’s lives in the next decade.

Similarly, 77% believe mental health will be a major problem for society, though 85% believe society will be more open and accepting of mental health issues, both higher than the global average.

Financial pessimism

Despite the Australian economy holding up better than most, 66% of youth feel they will struggle financially in the future, six points higher than the global average. Only 38% believe their finances will change for the better in the next 10 years.

Social justice pressure on brands

Australian youth are also increasing their commitment to social justice: 57% say they are now actively involved in social movements and campaigning for change.

This will only increase, with 81% believing that in the next decade they will be actively involved in creating a society of equality and 83% agreeing that there will be an expectation to self-educate on social issues.

These expectations follow through to brands, with 84% of youth expecting brands to stand up against social injustice.

Optimism for better times ahead

Despite the challenges of 2020, youth remain positive and optimistic about the future. Almost nine in ten (86%) believe their generation has the potential to change the world for the better.