Growing Up with Podcasts: The Gen Z Podcast Listener Report
Podcasts hit different for Gen Z. They started young and their appetite for the medium is growing. And 8 in 10 monthly listeners say they don’t do anything else when they’re listening—making it a great time for brands to reach them.
Is there a more sought-after demographic target right now for marketers and publishers alike than the ever-elusive Gen Z? While much has written about this generation’s views on the world, their brand preferences, their unique jargon, and the fact that they have grown up with digital technology and social media, to date there hasn’t been much of a spotlight on what role podcasts play for them.
Over the past few years, through a series of thought leadership reports, SXM Media and Edison Research have focused on the diversity of podcast listenership. Following deep dives on Black podcast listeners, Latino podcast listeners, and most recently, female podcast listeners, our latest report shines the spotlight on Gen Z podcast listeners.
With over 1,000 online interviews conducted among U.S. monthly podcast listeners ages 13 to 24 conducted in April 2023, this new study sought to unpack the trends in growth among Gen Z podcast listeners and dive deep into their behaviors and affinities. We understood the assignment and now we’re spilling the tea on how and why this generation listens (…and if that felt cringe to you, don’t worry, we’ll drop the Gen Z slang now).
Listenership is on the Rise
We see year after year in Edison Research’s Infinite Dial that podcasts are still on the rise, and that was true in the recent 2023 report as well. Based on unpublished data from the 2023 Infinite Dial, we see that 47% of Americans ages 13 to 24 have listened to podcasts within the last month. That is an impressive 57% increase compared to just five years ago, and it means that there are now an estimated 24 million Gen Z U.S. monthly podcast listeners. This is a massive opportunity for both brands and content creators to reach and connect with this coveted base.
Not only are Gen Z taking to podcasts in bigger numbers—looking at the share of their audio listening, time spent with podcasts is on the upswing, too. According to the latest Share of Ear report from Edison, 58% of the total time Gen Z spends with spoken-word audio is now spent with podcasts, more than double the 28% it was among ages 13-24 back in 2018.
Gen Z Podcast Listeners are More Diverse
As Gen Z podcast listening has increased over the years, the demographics of those listeners has seen some shifts. Now 46% of monthly podcast listeners ages 13 to 24 are female, which is up from just 42% in 2018. Gen Z listenership has also become more diverse over that same period—and compared to total U.S. monthly podcast listeners, Gen Z listeners are also more diverse. One in five identify as Hispanic/Latino, compared to 14% of total listeners, 15% identify as Black/African American, tied with total listeners, and 4% identify as Asian, compared to just 3%.
Engagement is Off the Charts
Now that we’ve sized up the growth and dug into the demographics, let’s dig into Gen Z listening habits. Among monthly Gen Z listeners, three in four have listened to a podcast in the past week, and younger listeners ages 13 to 17 are even more engaged—80% have listened in the past week!
While almost six in 10 Gen Z listeners began first listening to podcasts when they were teenagers, and one in four started listening as adults, 16% started listening to podcasts as children under age 11. Those who pick up the habit young are even more devoted listeners. They spend much more time with podcasts, listening for an average of 10.6 hours each week, compared to 7.7 hours for total Gen Z monthly listeners.
Gen Z listeners also get engrossed in their favorite shows—78% say they often binge-listen to podcasts. And again, those who first started listening to podcasts as children are even more immersed in the content, with 88% saying they binge-listen often.
They’re Connecting with the Content
When it comes to topics and content genres that Gen Z is listening to, comedy leads the way (48%), followed by entertainment/celebrity/gossip (40%) true crime (38%), music (36%) and games/hobbies (35%).
Thinking about the types of podcasts they’re interested in, Gen Z is looking to hear real life stories (94%), banter or back and forth conversations (92%), shows that can be binge-listened (91%) and interviews with different guests (90%). Over three in four Gen Z listeners say it’s important that the podcasts they listen to have hosts they enjoy, and almost six in 10 say it’s important that podcasts provide them with good tips and advice.
Over four in 10 think it’s important that podcasts keep them up to date with social issues, offer perspectives and opinions that are different from their own, and include stories and perspectives from people their own age. Gen Z is turning to podcasts for more than just simple entertainment—they’re looking for fresh perspectives and conversations about topics that are important to them, and ideally shows that can also provide them with utility and guidance.
Social Media is a Podcast Gateway
When it comes to finding out about podcasts, social media plays a crucial role for this generation. About nine in 10 Gen Z listeners have ever listened to or watched a brief podcast clip on social media platforms like TikTok or Instagram. Among those that have, 73% say that the brief clip led them to listen to or watch the podcast somewhere else.
Social is often the gateway to how they first hear about podcasts, and on a day-to-day basis it can be a key discovery point for hearing about a show that’s new or simply new to them. Looking at individual social media platforms, Gen Z is most likely to find out about podcasts from YouTube (84%), TikTok (80%), Instagram (71%), Facebook and Twitter (55% each).
Social media also provides ways for them to continue engaging with the podcasts that they love beyond just listening. Over eight in 10 engage with podcasts through social media, typically by following a host or guest from a podcast, following a podcast show, or even sharing a podcast through social media.
Digging into Issues and Current Events
Social media as a discovery vehicle extends beyond podcasts—it’s also a key way that Gen Z find out about news and current events. While 57% of Gen Z podcast listeners say they first hear about current events through social media, only 17% say that they trust the information they read on social media. So while these platforms may be key for unearthing a story, they can’t fill the whole role, and Gen Z is turning to podcasts for the full and trusted story.
Two-thirds of Gen Z podcast listeners say they listen to or watch podcasts to stay up to date with the latest topics, and 61% listen or watch to keep up to date with social issues. They aren’t seeking out surface-level reads of the headlines—over three in four say they listen to podcasts to hear unique perspectives on topics not covered in other media. Podcasts provide Gen Z with a deeper story or take on an issue, and from a different lens than they can get elsewhere.
Gen Z does not shy away from difficult conversations or addressing polarizing and controversial topics. When it comes to issues that are at the forefront for Gen Z listeners, six in 10 say that social justice, the economy, and gun laws are important to them, and over half cited the effects of social media on mental health, reproductive rights, and climate change as important.
Looking Out for Their Mental Health
Another topic that Gen Z is not afraid to tackle head-on is mental health. Moreso than any generation before them, Gen Z is acutely aware of the importance of their emotional well-being and actively focus on self-care and unplugging. Almost one in three Gen Z listeners think that being on social media has had a negative impact on their emotional well-being.
Podcasts can play a key role here as well, with over 80% of Gen Z listeners saying they turn to podcasts to relax and about two in three saying they listen to escape. Sometimes podcasts can even help them regulate their emotions, with over half saying they listen to help them understand how they’re feeling about something.
While some Gen Zers listen to podcasts while multitasking and doing other activities, over eight in 10 say that they listen to podcasts while doing nothing else. This is especially true for teens, with 86% saying they just listen. Podcasts are an important way for this up-and-coming generation to unwind and also to really focus on the content they’re listening to.
Podcast Ads are Welcomed…and They Work!
We’ve seen time and again through research studies that listeners are receptive to podcast ads and that they actually take action after hearing them, and this holds true for Gen Z listeners as well. Almost half of Gen Z listeners say they are more likely to remember brands they hear advertised on podcasts, compared to ads they see or hear elsewhere.
Most importantly for brands, 43% of Gen Z listeners ages 16 or older have actually purchased a product after hearing a podcast ad for it, and 44% of listeners ages 13 to 17 have asked someone to buy a product for them after hearing it advertised in a podcast. More than six in 10 total Gen Z listeners have visited a company’s website after hearing a podcast ad or have wanted a product or service they heard in a podcast ad, and over half have gathered more information about a brand they heard.
Podcast ads can come in many forms today, and Gen Z listeners find value in a variety of formats. Thinking about podcast ads that they often or occasionally find to be useful, products or services that are discussed by the hosts top the list at 84%, while 80% find sponsorship messages like "this show is brought to you buy…" to be often or occasionally useful, and 76% say the same for pre-recorded advertisements. While host reads maintain their lead in perceptions, they are by no means the only way to drive impact with this generation.
Brands Can Make an Impression
So what does this all mean for brands? Podcasts can no longer be ignored as a way to not only reach Gen Z, but connect with them in meaningful ways. Podcast listening is now a major media activity for younger listeners and is an effective medium to reach them at scale. Podcasts play such varied and important roles for Gen Z in their daily lives that there are seemingly infinite options to connect with them in contextually relevant ways, across genres and formats.
The icing on the cake for brands? Gen Z actually finds utility in podcast ads and will actively seek out more information or even buy the brands they hear. They are key drivers of the creator economy, and they’ll actively support the brands that back their favorite creators and shows.
Now you know, Gen Z is listening to podcasts and is ready to hear your brand messages. And we can help you reach them. Let’s talk.