Youth marketing

The Gen Z college student market in numbers - US edition

Written by
Published on
July 26, 2021
Last updated
May 9, 2024

What this article covers

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Sizing up the US student market is no simple feat, but we’ve only gone and done it. Get quantitative data on student income and student spending by sector - and see for yourself the true value of Generation Z.  

Authentic, digitally native, financially-savvy, TikTok, Instagram - all these words are associated with the Gen Z demographic, also known as your brand’s next generation of consumers.

Our latest set of quantitative data reveals just how valuable this emerging generation of consumers really are; by painting a picture of student spending by sector, student income, and more. So, if you’re still wondering ‘why Gen Z students?’ - let the results set the record straight.

Let’s talk numbers.

Generation Z - a quick-fire guide

The older cohort of Gen Z - aka college students - are currently at the start of their financial independence, which makes them an ideal market for brands looking to build up their young consumer following and gain brand loyalty. With a grand total of 19.6 million college students in the US, the potential for brands to win big with the next generation is huge.

Group of students stood in front of a brick wall

But why are these 19.6 millions students such valuable consumers? Firstly, they have more student income than you might expect. The average student has multiple paychecks - commonly receiving money from their place of work, family members, and through student loan agreements.

They also love to shop. 95% of Gen Zs shop online, with 76% making a purchase online at least once a month. What's more, Gen Z students are big brand advocates and are highly influential - especially within the digital space. 97% use social media at least once a month and 65% have recommended a product or brand to their social media followers. Making a good impression of one Gen Z student can go a long way in boosting your engagement with a wider audience of young consumers.

Student income

Now that you’ve got the general overview, let’s delve a little deeper into student income. Overall, a college student’s annual income amounts to just over $30,363. The average collective annual income for college students is $595 billion - yes, you read that correctly.

At least 55% receive income from a job, and 74% receive income from family members. With multiple sources of income students are likely to have a decent amount of disposable income, which is why at least 60% of their spending goes towards non-essential items. 

person counting dollar bills

One thing is for sure - students are known to be financially sensible, which means they are more inclined to research ahead of making a purchase to find the best balance between affordability and quality. In total, 90% of college students check if there is a student discount available when making a purchase.

Student spending

So, now you know their source of income, I bet you’re wondering how much students spend, and what they actually spend their dollars on, right? 

The total college student annual spend is $303 billion. A college student has an average annual spend of $15,485.40, which equates to an average monthly spend of $1290.45. Typically, around $771 is spent on non-essential items in one month, while 40% of their spending is on essential items like rent, bills, groceries, household products, health, and transport.

Of course, there are some key spending periods to note, where students will be unleashing their purchasing power in full force. During Back to School season, you’ll find most college students like to do their shopping in July or August. 80% of students say they do most of their shopping for gifts between the months of October and December - and 66% actually buy a lot of their holiday gifts during Cyber Week in November. You can also expect students to be spending a few more dollars around key dates like Valentine’s Day, 4th July and on the run up to Spring Break. 

person window shopping

When broken down into sectors, we found that on average, students spend $97.66 on restaurant and takeaway per month, $117.31 on clothes, shoes and accessories, and $67.88 on tech. Beauty products take up around $58.65 of their monthly spend, while books, stationery, and study items cost them around $80.41 per month. For sports and fitness items, the average student looks to spend around $50 in a four week period. Events and activities typically cost them $69.37 per month - which almost matched their spend on home entertainment at $68.36. Homewares - a big sector for the Back to School shopping period - sets students back around $53 per month. Finally, in the travel sector, we found that in a year students spend around $648.

Now that you’ve got all the facts and the figures, head over to our website to watch our panel discussion: The voice of Gen Z to hear from our panel of outspoken college students on how you can best target their generation.

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