The great divide
Also called “iGen” or “centennials”, Gen Z is what’s coming after millennials. According to the most common calculations, the youngest of GenZ are in kindergarten and the oldest are just entering college. But there’s a good argument to put the division earlier. For example, anyone born in 1995 or younger would not have the cognitive ability to have 9/11 be the shocking and worldview shifting event that it was for those born later. And that’s one of the distinguishing events that researchers look for.
Some other distinguishing characteristics: members of this cohort don’t remember a world pre-9/11, or pre-economic 2000 and 2008 economic crisis, or even pre-smart phone. The youngest of them will not know that phones didn’t always make video calls.
Wherever you draw the line, Generation Z represents around 60 million young Americans (over a million more than the millennial generation) that promise billions of dollars in purchasing power.
Are they just a new kind of millennial?
The director of the Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson called GenZ “millennials on steroids” but a different picture is emerging. Unlike the millennials, who were raised by baby boomer parents in a relatively peaceful and prosperous time only to be shattered by 9/11 and the economic crises, Generation Z was raised during the war on terror and the financial downturns. And that means they are going to look a lot different as they enter the workforce and the economy.
In fact, the generation they might be most similar to is the “Silent Generation” raised during the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s.
That generation went on to be the career focused achievers of the 50s and 60s. They were also one of the richest generations in history.
Generation Z has the “weight of saving the world and fixing our past mistakes on their small shoulders” according to Fast Company. Research is emerging on what’s different about GenZ and it’ll be crucial for businesses and entrepreneurs to keep it in mind as this generation enters the workforce.
Generation Z is so diverse that diversity isn’t really noticed or talked about until it’s NOT present. They won’t really remember a time before we had an African American president, or a time before comprehensive legal gay marriage. So while they might not be talking about it all the time, they will notice when it’s not there.
They expect it on such a basic level that they don’t spend a lot of time discussing it.
The millennials were described as tech-savvy but tech-dependent might be a better phrase. Gen Z has this aspect too – they don’t know how technology works but they are immersed in tech all the time. But one important distinction is privacy concerns.
Where millennials were the Facebook generation, Gen Z leans towards platforms like Whisper and Snapchat.
As “digital natives” they are aware of and even curate their online presence.
The next generation isn’t going to shop like any previous generation. According to one researcher they will “break a lot of business”. They aren’t going to shop in-person when they’ve grown up with amazon prime. They are going to ask why anyone would expect them to drive to car lot to pick out a car. Romans Wear Daily called them “next big retail disrupter” and the industry should be ready to change with the times. There’s also research that Gen Z already values saving over spending.
People might disagree about where the generation starts and ends, but everyone is sure that they will be a game changer.