Gen Z Promgoers Are Most Traditional Teens in Years, Survey Finds

Today’s promgoers appear to be more traditional than those from just a few years ago. (Photo: Getty Images)
Today’s promgoers appear to be more traditional than those from just a few years ago. (Photo: Getty Images)

High school students attending proms across the country are doing so in ways that may come as a shock to many, as they indicate that the generation, known as Generation Z, might be more traditional than the millennials who came before.

Those signs, as revealed in Yahoo Style’s exclusive ‘Prom Across America’ survey on the American high school prom experience, included the following: teens indicating that they’ll wear dresses that don’t show much skin, that they’ll go to the dance with true dates rather than friends, and that they harbor reluctance when it comes to accepting transgender prom kings and queens.

“We’re calling them ‘the throwback generation,’” Jason Dorsey, of the market research firm Center for Generational Kinetics, tells Yahoo Beauty. Dorsey’s company recently conducted its own study of Gen Z, and found its collective behavior to be “completely unexpected,” and in direct response to that of their predecessors. “They’re really pushing back from what millennials were about, and definitely want to see themselves differently,” he says.

Yahoo’s national prom survey of more than 1,700 addressed a gamut of questions about proms — including those related to expenses, attire and dress code, social pressures, and gender issues — and were primarily organized by age and region.

Among the results that point to Gen Z being more traditional than millennials:
  • Among teens heading to their proms, 70 percent are going with a date; that’s compared with 61 percent of adults who are 18 and over.

  • The rate of teens “going to the prom with friends” is just 9 percent — which is lower than it was, at 13 percent, for adults 18 over.

  • Regarding dress styles for girls, high necklines are proving popular with teens — 27 percent of whom opted for them — while just 20 percent of adults 18 and over chose high necklines.

  • Of the Gen Z teens, only 35 percent say they support a gender non-binary prom court or a transgender prom king or queen. That number jumps to 42 percent for millennial adults age 18 to 34.

“You’d expect younger to equal more liberal, but that’s not what we’re seeing,” explains Dorsey, whose main findings were around Gen Z and financial behaviors, which are indicative of much more, he says. “Their behavior says, ‘We don’t want to end up like millennials — entitled, a trophy generation, with mountains of college debt. … They are intentionally choosing less expensive colleges.”

Prom spending, of course, may be an exception to this rule, as the Yahoo Style survey found there has been plenty of money shelled out on the perfect dress, hair, and makeup — especially among the teens.

Still, the general sense is that of young throwbacks, particularly when it comes to certain social behaviors.

“It’s absolutely true that they’re more likely to go with dates,” observes family and adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg of Connecticut. “I think the ‘hookup culture’ is sort of on its way out. They’re much more into dating and being exclusive.”

Greenberg has also noticed teens opting for less-revealing prom dresses than in the recent past. “In general, I think the kids are more conservative, socially, and maybe one way it’s manifesting itself is by how they’re dressing,” she posits. “I see hundreds of kids each year, and I’m not seeing a whole lot of cleavage or slits. And they’re wearing gowns.”

Dorsey notes that Gen Z’s parents are, after all, of Generation X, and he credits that as driving a lot of these behaviors.

Because even taking naiveté into account and the fact that a lot of Generation Z’s ideas could shift as they mature, “The type of difference we’ve been seeing is dramatic,” he says. “Generation Z is looking a bit more like baby boomers, which is really wild. … They’re old enough to see where being a millennial got you, and old enough to know they don’t want it — at least not now.”

Read more from our Prom Across America Survey:

Read more recent prom coverage from Yahoo Style + Beauty:

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