Experiences with the COVID-19 outbreak can vary for Americans of different ages

June 16, 2020 | Pew Research Center

The COVID-19 outbreak has altered daily life for Americans – from how they work and attend school, to the ways they connect with others, to how they worship. These experiences can vary with age, as these findings from Pew Research Center surveys illustrate.

1. Older Americans are the most likely to see the outbreak as a major threat to their health and the least likely to see it as a threat to their personal financial situation. About half (49%) of those 65 and older said in a late April-early May survey that the coronavirus is a major threat to their health. But fewer in this age group – 32% – say it is a major threat to their personal finances.

Meanwhile, younger Americans are more likely to view the coronavirus as a major threat to their personal finances than as a major threat to their personal health. Four-in-ten adults ages 18 to 29 say the outbreak is a major threat to their financial situation, and 26% say it is a threat to their health.

2. Job disruption during the COVID-19 shutdown is most common among adults younger than 50. In an early April survey, 54% of those ages 18 to 29 and 49% of those 30 to 49 said they or someone in their household had experienced job or wage loss because of the coronavirus outbreak. This compares with 42% of those ages 50 to 64 and a quarter of those 65 and older.

One-quarter of workers ages 16 to 24 have lost their jobs during the coronavirus downturn, according to a Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Young adults also tend to work in the industries most vulnerable to job loss related to the coronavirus shutdown.

3. Majorities of adults under 50 say the internet has been essential to them during the coronavirus outbreak, compared with about a third of those 65 and older. An early April survey found that as people turned to the internet to replace in-person social and business encounters, about six-in-ten adults under 30 (62%) said the internet has been essential to them during the outbreak, while 65% of adults ages 30 to 49 felt this way. This compares with about half (49%) of those ages 50 to 64 and 31% of those 65 and older.

The same survey found that younger adults were more likely than others to have held virtual parties and gatherings with their family and friends, watched live-streamed events and participated in online fitness activities.

4. Younger adults are more likely to report feeling emotional distress as the pandemic unfolds. A March survey asked people if they had experienced five different types of psychological distress in the past seven days, including anxiety, sleeplessness, depression and loneliness. Adults 18 to 29 were more than twice as likely to fall into the “high distress” category than those 65 and older (33% vs. 15%).