Culture and trends
min read

"It is what it is" | The impact of TV on Gen Z's relationships

Published on
February 3, 2023
Last updated
January 22, 2024

What this article covers

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe to receive the latest blog posts to your inbox every week.

Subscribe

By subscribing you agree to with our Privacy Policy.

Did you know the average young consumer spends 53 minutes a day watching television? This statistic is a far cry from the number a decade ago. It’s also very different compared to the watching habits of people over the age of 65 (equating to almost six hours a day, if you’re interested…).

Whilst television consumption has gone down, this isn’t to say Gen Z have stopped watching altogether. In fact, it would be fair to say that their watching habits have simply changed: they’re spending more time on social media and using streaming services to stay up-to-date with the latest TV shows. 

In this blog, we discuss the effect of this consumption on the dating lives of young consumers. We explore Gen Z’s relationship with authenticity, whether reality TV is making us more superficial, and discuss the importance of inclusivity in media.

The love-hate relationship with authenticity

Gen Z has a love-hate relationship with authenticity. They religiously follow the feeds of influencers, yet simultaneously crave vulnerability. They felt anguish during 500 Days of Summer when the eponymous characters didn’t end up together, but they also felt comforted. Not every love story has a happy ending, and that’s okay. It’s this portrait of reality that makes shows like Euphoria so successful; Gen Z consumers increasingly prefer stories that reflect real life experiences, including all the bumps of navigating relationships, identity and mental health.

When it comes to dating, young consumers haven’t had it easy. Social media has caused a rife of issues: body dysmorphia, negative comparisons, higher levels of anxiety. And whilst Gen Z are used to the online world making their self-image feel inadequate, they’re demanding more from the media they consume. Shows like Love Is Blind were popular because they painted an accurate portrayal of the ups and downs of dating (albeit in very unrealistic circumstances!). Equally, Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle was praised for its focus on the personal development of the contestants.

Is reality TV making us more superficial?

Love Island, Too Hot to Handle and Love Is Blind might paint a realistic picture of the modern dating landscape, but the contestants are far from representative of it. Populated with a ubiquity of toned abs and tanned bodies, almost every contestant could be a model (and many are!). This is affecting Gen Z in a number of ways, with research from Psychology Today finding that watching reality dating shows wholly reinforces the belief that ‘appearance is important in dating’.  

Gen Z are a self conscious generation, with 4 in 10 people falling into the ‘lowest self-love group’, according to The Body Shop. And whilst they’re addicted to shows like Love Island for the drama and escapism, watching the same glamorous twenty-somethings being cast every time has led to backlash. Cries for ‘normal contestants’ are commonplace every year, with the show also previously facing criticism for its lack of ethnic diversity. 

Why inclusivity is important

Gen Z have made it clear time and time again that inclusivity is a big priority for them. In fact, a massive 76% shared they felt diversity and inclusion are important topics for brands to address. This seeps beyond advertising and into the world of media, too. A recent open letter in The Guardian went viral for discussing how fat actors are never portrayed as objects of romantic desire in films. The anonymous writer shared that ‘fat people, and the people who love them, live in a world that has taught us our love is at best, niche, and at worst, hilarious’. 

UK dramas like My Mad Fat Diary have been praised for going against the tide with their raw portrayal of sex and dating as a plus sized woman. Gen Z viewers shared the cultural significance this had on them, with one writing that the show ‘made them feel seen in a world where I’d almost resigned to never being seen at all’. Equally, US show Never Have I Ever’s depiction of modern day life for a first-gen Indian girl struck chords, unveiling the dynamics of Gen Z lives against a culturally diverse backdrop.

Are Gen Z becoming less satisfied with their relationships?

Even when turning from reality TV to regular TV, research has shown a link between frequent viewership and unrealistic relationship expectations. Sitcoms and dramas like Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy and New Girl all portray idealised realities with (just a hint of) non-rosiness. In this universe things aren’t perfect all the time – people cheat, gossip permeates and small misunderstandings become long-running talking points. A study by the University of Michigan looked into the effect of this, finding that ‘students who frequently watched sitcoms where characters dated multiple partners’ had lower levels of romantic idealisation. Equally, another study found that Gen Z college students who watched dating programmes were more likely to embrace negative attitudes towards dating.

Key takeaways

  • Gen Z are drawn to TV shows and dramas that reflect authentic experiences. 
  • Inclusivity is making its way further into television, but Gen Z viewers want to see more of this reflected in reality TV.
  • Research has shown that idealised realities shown in sitcoms have made young consumers more likely to hold negative views towards dating. 

Sign up to our Weekly Briefing for more Gen Z trends and insights, delivered directly to your inbox every week.

1,000+ brands trust Pion

Ready to see how Pion can supercharge your sales targets?