Everyone is aging. Right now, as you read this, you are aging. Regardless of external factors like socioeconomic status or personal factors like gender or sexual orientation, everyone is getting older all the time.
Pew Research Center found that depending on what stage of life someone is in, the perception of what is considered old changes. Respondents 18 to 29 consider 60 to be old; 60-year-olds, however, think it happens in the mid-70s.
For content creator Jordan Howlett, 26, “looking old” for his age means looking like he’s in his mid-30s — which is what he talks about in his viral TikTok video that has over 22 million views.
“We live in a time nowadays where millennials look way younger for their age, while Gen Z looks way older,” Howlett claims in the video. “It is mainly because of the stress.”
Howlett does not specify what “stress” could be causing increased physical aging for this age demographic or even what stress is impacting him specifically.
Raghu Kiran Appasani, a San Francisco-based psychiatrist, told Yahoo News that there could be a connection between Gen Z and the generation’s chronic stress, fueled by overexposure to breaking news and tragic events. A 2021 study from Google found that not only does Gen Z have lots of exposure to news, but they have exposure to different sources and opinions too.
“There's a lot more information overload at their fingertips,” Appasani explained. “What I would say is that they probably have a much higher degree of exposure to chronic stress than any prior generation has had.”
Stress can cause inflammation which can turn into accelerated aging. Although Appasani did not outright confirm that Gen Z is aging faster than other generations, he did say “it’s not great.”
“If you have a high level of stress, you're at higher risk for cardiac issues, for health issues,” he said.
But to Appasani, accelerated aging might not be the main issue for Gen Z. Instead, he argues that there’s a more internal issue at hand that should be addressed first.
The video that spawned a thousand think pieces.
Howlett told Yahoo News that he thought the somewhat self-deprecating commentary on aging would just be funny.
“I had no idea it was going to reach the magnitude that it did,” he said. “I had no idea it was going to then start a grander conversation about millennials and Gen Z aging.”
Howlett’s video opened up a conversation about whether all of Gen Z is “aging like milk” and aging faster than previous generations. The Gen Z age range is considered to be between 11 and 27 years old.
There was already a spark of discourse surrounding whether Gen Z’s concerns with aging were valid when tweens and teenagers were filmed shopping for retinol — an anti-aging product — at Sephora. Howlett’s video coincided with the internet’s debate about how young is too young for anti-aging skin care — and if it’s actually one of the perceived problem’s causes.
“Just from my own determination, I genuinely feel like I look in my mid-30s,” Howlett told Yahoo News. “I have more wrinkles on my face than maybe the average 26-year-old. Also, I would say my beard does add a bit more age to my aesthetic.”
In terms of his day-to-day look, Howlett explained that, in addition to his beard and glasses, he dresses comfortably and prefers wearing thermal sweaters and sweatpants — clothing items he says he can understand someone associating with an older person.
Writer Ryan Broderick made a similar argument in his Garbage Day newsletter. He argues that Gen Z leans into what he’s dubbed “Boca Raton-core.”
“Millennials dress young and Gen Z dresses old,” Broderick writes. “[Gen Z] gravitates towards styles that are both comfortable — they are the Zoom school generation — and also flashy. They either didn’t live through or don’t remember the recession, so they don’t have the same hangups millennials do about showing off wealth.”
Outfits and facial hair aside, is there real proof that Gen Z is aging at an accelerated rate that no other generation has ever dealt with?
According to Appasani, whether Gen Z’s aging is real or imagined is beside the point. The conversation is focusing on the wrong problem.
Physical aging shouldn’t be the main concern.
What Appasani and his colleagues are actually concerned about with this generation is their mental development.
“Psychologically, the developmental stages are actually being a little bit more extended,” Appasani explained, referring to Gen Z patients. “So normally, what we would see as a normal stage as a young adult or teen is kind of extending a little bit more into their 20s.”
Appasani argues that older members of Gen Z being so preoccupied with how old they appear to other people is in fact a juvenile concern. It’s just now being experienced in their late 20s.
“It doesn't allow for them to actually dive into that developmental aspect of life, of really diving into identity and independence,” he added. “That comes back to what I was seeing initially about that stage of identity versus role, which typically happens when you're a teenager, has been extended out now into their 20s.”