From wildfires to Covid-19 to protests for racial justice in the US and beyond, 2020 has been a challenging year. Through this period of rapid change and waiting for a “new normal” to emerge, the future remains uncertain.

How are young people around the world responding to these dramatic events? To understand the impact on youth, we carried out a new research project, Beyond 2020: Global Youth – Voices & Futures. This study involved a survey of over 8,000 16- to 24-year-olds in 15 countries, along with remote video interviews and immersive digital exercises in 6 of those countries.

Here’s what we learned about how people aged 16 to 24 are feeling about what’s happened in 2020 so far:

They see 2020 as defined by disruption. This year has certainly not turned out as expected, with 82% of young people reporting that many of their plans have been disrupted and 80% saying that 2020 has made them rethink their plans for the future. While Covid-19 has been the biggest disturbance, with 9 in 10 young people saying it’s impacted them, 73% have also been affected by other things. Those include anti-racist and anti-police brutality movements (52%), as well as natural disasters, climate change protests, political events, war, and terrorism.

Their social lives, schooling, and travel plans have been hardest hit. Virtually all young people have had at least one area of life impacted by the events of 2020 (94%). The main areas affected are time with friends (55%), education (53%), travel (49%), mental health (46%), and finances (43%).

2020 has been a time for internal reflection about how they want to live life and the role they want to play in the world. In response to these challenging times, young people have been reflecting on themselves and the wider world. They’re reviewing how they spend their money (59%), educating themselves about social issues (51%), talking to others about mental health (41%), changed the course of their education or career (37%), and having conversations about social injustice (31%). Overall, 54% say they are actively involved in social movements and campaigning for change – and 28% feel this more than a year ago.

Despite all the chaos of this year, they feel optimistic and ready to work hard. Seven in 10 young people (70%) told us they feel uncertain about their future – a sense that has risen, with 40% saying the future feels more uncertain than a year ago. They are resilient, however, with 72% feeling prepared to deal with whatever life throws at them. Almost all (93%) believe they’ll have to work hard to achieve their goals – and 55% say this sentiment is stronger than a year ago. But optimism prevails. Three-quarters (76%) feel positive about their future and 91% want to make the most of what comes next for them beyond 2020.

In our next article, we’ll explore young people’s priorities and expectations for the future – for themselves and the world around them.