An astounding amount has been written up about Millennials (they are the most studied generation after all.) Every corporation, marketer, university and parent has been trying to solve Millennials, the entitled, brash generation that invented Facebook and changed the world exponentially. Still, millennials recall the agonizingly slow days of dial-up internet in a world full of landlines with acute clarity. They weren’t born with a smartphone as an extension of the arm, unlike the youngest generation, one that appears even more puzzling: Generation Z. As the attention shifts to the real digital natives, we embark on the process of understanding this crop of young people born after 1998.
Using Pew Research’s generational delineation, the oldest Gen-Zers were born in 1998. That makes them 18 today, meaning they are entering formative years. How to tell if someone is a Gen-Zer and not just a young millennial? (They are pretty similar after all. Some even talk about “millennials on steroids”.) Well, if you don’t recall 9/11 because you were too young to remember, then you probably are Generation Z.
If millennials were internet pioneers, Gen-zers are digital natives. What millennials perceive as being milestones (gay marriage, a black president), Zers see as the norm. Millennials came of age during the economy’s golden years (and were disillusioned by the unwelcoming job market upon graduation); generation Z, who has been shaped by the recession is ready to fight and fend for themselves.
Diversity and inclusion may be their most defining traits yet. And it is a diversity that transcends race, gender and sexual orientation. According to Christopher Wolf, a Goldman Sachs Research analyst, “the Census Bureau is actually forecasting that over half of kids in America will belong to a minority race or ethnic group by 2020, so diversity in the traditional sense of the word has actually become the norm.”
Today’s innovations and trends (think Pokémon Go, Uber, Amazon, WhatsApp, the Cloud…) aren’t just impacting our world in the traditional, linear way. We’ve tapped into an intangible, virtual world that has led to a shared connectedness evolving exponentially and at a dizzying rate. The result? An entire generation of behaviorally and culturally diverse global citizens. When diversity becomes the norm, fashion follows on the lead: Normcore (a tendency to blend in and reject brands) has emerged at a big trend among today’s youth. Retailers are focusing on messages of authenticity and transparency in hopes of convincing the less brand-conscious, thrifty generation.
Today’s tweens and teens are careful spenders. They watched their parents come through, older siblings struggle after college (with a mountain of debt.) If millennials prioritize traveling, working out, and spending time with family/friends, the financial cautious younger siblings’ top priorities are getting a job, finishing college and safeguarding money. A survey by Lincoln Financial Group of 400 Zers aged 15 to 19 found that they are saving far earlier than older generations. 60% have a savings accounts and 71% are intent on saving for their future. They are laser-focused on how they spend and the value they’re going to get out of something.
They are also entrepreneurial: a recent Harvard Business Review article stated that nearly 70% of Zers were self-employed (tutoring, selling goods on eBay) versus just 12% that work traditional summer jobs like waitressing. The digitally-fluent, independent and pragmatic youth is fully aware of how to turn skills into earning power, which will undoubtedly have great impact on the workplace and economy at large.
Beyond the pragmatism, conservative spending, and wariness, Gen-Zers display considerable optimism about their futures. They did after all, see their parents overcome a financial crisis. Like Millennials, Generation Z will likely endure the dissecting, studying, and analyzing of their mindset. With the oldest Zers barely 18, the next few years should offer incredible insight into the true digital natives of this world.