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Why are we all so obsessed with astrology?

Astrology is booming. Driven by younger generations, countless websites and platforms now cater to the astrologically inclined. We examine why this concept has taken over the zeitgeist again – and how it might be causing problems.

While it may be a laughable concept to many, astrology now permeates almost every social media platform.

Across TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter especially, it’s sparked an entire plethora of memes and subcultures. Terms like ‘big three,’ ‘mercury retrograde,’ and ‘birth chart’ have picked up steam on our feeds and in conversations, encouraging astrology to become a commercial industry.

Today, the mystical services market – which includes astrology, mediumship, tarot, and palm readings – is estimated to be worth $12.8bn, with an average growth of 0.5 per cent per year since 2017. This figure is expected to rise by ten billion within the next decade.

So, why are we seeing an astrology renaissance? Why has a belief system that’s existed for thousands of years only recently begun to dominate the zeitgeist again? Could there be negative consequences?

Let’s break it down.

Why is astrology so popular? - ABC Everyday

Where did astrology first originate?

Before we dive in, it’s worth looking at astrology’s origins. With us since at least the 3rd millennium BC, when civilisations developed an elaborate way to predict what might happen in accordance with the skies above, it was actually regarded as an academic tradition until the 17th century.

As science progressed, however, scepticism blossomed and faith in these insights swiftly faded.

Though interest was reignited by the New Age movement in the 60s and 70s, it was subsequently quelled by modern research that deemed it untrustworthy. Prior to the last few years, you’d be hard-pressed to ask someone about their sun, moon, and rising signs without triggering a strong reaction.

Yet, while astrology’s never been accepted by the mainstream, it has its own kind of logic.

The practise ascribes meaning to celestial objects by suggesting they have the power to influence the daily events in our lives and our personality traits. Some rely on it, while others think it’s merely fiction. Whether or not you’re a diehard believer, its surging popularity among Gen Z proves it shouldn’t be ignored.

Best Astrology Apps of 2023

Why is Gen Z so obsessed?

According to a 2019 survey conducted by MTV, of the 1,000 participants aged 14-29, 87% know their zodiac sign, 75% trust that astrology works, and 65% regularly check their horoscope.

In 2023, more Americans reportedly know their zodiac sign than their blood type, 43% of Gen Zers would make a big decision based on astrology, and one in three agree that ‘in this time of instability [they] turn to it to make sense of things.’

This isn’t surprising given astrology’s revival has coincided with significant tumult, just like after the Great Depression when the first boom occurred.

A small 1982 study by the psychologist Graham Tyson found that people who consult astrologers did so in response to stress.

As a demographic, Gen Z is notoriously struggling to come to terms with a politically and socially-polarised world, unable to escape the doom that’s brought on by news of conflict, inequality, and climate change.

Gen Z, Millennials Stand Out for Climate Change Activism, Social Media  Engagement With Issue | Pew Research Center

With this in mind, astrology offers those in crisis the comfort of imagining a more promising future, ‘a tangible reminder of that clichéd truism that’s nonetheless hard to remember when you’re in the thick of it: this too shall pass,’ to quote Julie Beck.

Guiding them through these ups and downs, astrology provides distressed Gen Zers with a natural route for navigating chaos, uncertainty, and collective trauma – much needed in the aftermath of the pandemic and the slew of mental health issues it caused – as well as a method of better understanding themselves, others, and the world.

This is because astrology can put into words what’s often hard to verbalise, namely the impacts of being raised in an environment that’s becoming more unstable and dystopian by the day.

‘Humans are narrative creatures, always seeking to explain themselves,’ says psychologist Monica Pasupathi. ‘While I lend no credence to astrology, it gives people a very clear frame for that explanation. It can help people feel more in control of ambiguous of complex situations with meaningful interpretations.’

It’s also important to note religion’s role (or lack thereof) in Gen Z’s obsession with astrology. With church attendance on the decline in America and young people far more secular than their predecessors – evidence that organised religion is losing its grip – astrology fills that void.

This is puzzling when you consider Gen Z are technologically-literate thinkers with a cynical disposition towards misinformation and whose most sacred God is science.

But due to Gen Z’s prevailing desire to feel connected to something greater in order to comprehend themselves and their surroundings with more ease, astrology is able to co-exist with their allegedly rigorous commitment to fact.

‘I think that almost as a counterbalance to this quantifiable and meticulously organised world we live in, there is a desire to connect to and tap into that numinous part of ourselves,’ says Ruby Warrington, founder of The Numinous. ‘I see astrology as a language of symbols that describes those parts of the human experience that we don’t necessarily have equations and numbers and explanations for.’

Additionally, a lot of people, particularly in the queer community, have felt excluded from religion. Because astrology is more inclusive, isn’t gendered, and doesn’t have a set of rules that turns people away, it’s favoured by marginalised groups.

‘Dogma can sometimes be quite manipulative, whereas horoscopes are a bit more open to interpretation,’ writes Ange Lavoipierre for ABC.

Exploring Astrology As a Form of Queer Communication – TwentyHood

Finally, Gen Zers are content on the fringes of scepticism and belief because they’ve spent the majority of their lives online, in another space that’s simultaneously real and unreal. Astrology, therefore, is perfectly suited for the digital age.

‘There’s a low barrier to entry, and nearly endless depths to plumb if you feel like falling down a Google-research hole,’ says Beck. ‘The availability of more in-depth information online has given this cultural wave of astrology a certain erudition.’

In contrast, Gen Z – who love memes – have happened upon fertile ground, with tongue-and-cheek astrology content rife on social media. Accounts dedicated to this are amusing, an assortment of relatable topics, bite-sized snippets of advice, and parodying conventional stereotypes.

Because astrologers condense ineffability into digestible pieces of knowledge and express complex ideas through a shorthand that’s undoubtedly fitting for the digitally-savvy demographic this way, the memefication of astrology allows Gen Zers to uniquely communicate their identity and have vulnerable discussions. This, of course, has its appeal.

‘Something’s happened in the last five or so years that’s given astrology an edginess, a relevance for this time and place, that it hasn’t had for a good 35 years,’ says Chani Nicholas. ‘Gen Zers have taken it and run with it.’

Why Personalized Astrology Apps Are Appealing to Gen Z | Time

Why is astrology a potentially risky business?

Despite the array of positive factors that have young people flocking to astrology, it does come with risks.

Problems can arise from over-dependency on this form of spirituality. Though it’s a personal choice, experts warn against relying too heavily on the sun, moon, and stars for guidance.

As it’s aligned with Gen Z’s fascination with self-discovery, self-improvement, and self-reflection, some view astrology as a substitute for therapy when it’s merely a framework for introspection.

Seeking fulfilment by reading astrological materials is one thing but extending that curiosity to decision-making based on ‘what remains disproven’ is another.

‘If people are using astrology to make sense of their lives, good for them,’ says Lauren Kassell, a Cambridge professor of the history of science and medicine. ‘With the caveat that they aren’t being exploited in the process.’

What Kassell refers to is the monetisation of astrology, the best example of this being the numerous apps that have burst onto the scene.

These include Co-Star, Sanctuary, and The Pattern, which are at the vanguard of astrological tech and its widespread, devoted audience. Co-Star is ranked among the top 40 lifestyle apps in the US

Their shared aim, which is to foster communities dependent on the automated, tailored messaging catering to each person rather than each sign that their platforms deliver and which horoscopes in the back pages of magazines never could, plays right into Gen Z’s partiality for personalisation (58% is willing to pay more for products targeted towards their personalities) and the attention Gen Zers are now giving to their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

As the wellness sector continues to mushroom, the steady uptick in astrological interest appears auspicious to those in business, and many have eagerly seized the opportunity to profit off of it.

‘Brands pay attention to what’s popular, and right now astrology is on trend,’ says Emma Vidgen, author of The Astrology of You.

The Global, Gen Z–Influenced Rise of Horoscope and Astrology Podcasts on  Spotify — Spotify

‘The mainstreaming of astrology seems, if not an ill portent, at least representative of a broader intellectual apathy. Some might generously call it a deeper spiritual yearning. But I could also (less generously) call it a scammy, pseudo-existential branding exercise.’

With companies evidently keen to capitalise on this current craze and the conclusions they’re drawing ‘a matter of the algorithmic magic at the centre of their AI hearts,’ Vidgen stresses that it’s vital young people take astrological recommendations with a pinch of salt.

If their intention is simply to validate the realisations they’d already reached with a light-hearted scroll through their astrological app, however, there’s ultimately no harm in looking to the skies above for a little more clarity.

Astrology’s renewed popularity is most likely a reflection of Gen Z’s anxieties towards an uncertain future.

As an industry, it is rife with questionable business practices and has the potential to harbour exploitative, AI-generated content. By that same token, however, astrology is symbolic of generational optimism, helping to form structure and linearity within the scatter-brained, overreaching internet age.