14 Things You Should Know About Generation Z
We’ve had Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. And now here comes Generation Z.
Definitions of Gen Z vary, but the core of the cohort typically includes people born between the mid-’90s and the mid-’00s, which means people now mostly in their teens and early twenties, and they’re ready to start rocking the world.
XYZ University, which advises companies on engaging Gen Z in the workplace, puts it like this: “Gen Z has grown up in a post-9/11 world where terrorism and school shootings are reality and the ‘American Dream’ seems to be just that — a dream. As a result, this generation tends to be more cautious and pragmatic, while also being inspired to change the world.”
Gen Z has been molded by the financial crisis and smartphones, the two defining features of the last decade, Barclays analyst Hiral Patel told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Gen Z is also called the “iGeneration,” as the first iPhone was launched while many of the cohort were young children. "This is a generation that went straight to smartphones," Suzy Ross of Accenture told the Herald. "From the word go, they have had access to the world and information."
Gen Z will be characterized by expecting instant access to information on a global level, as well as an openness to different cultures, ways of thinking, gender definitions and sexual identities. They will also be ambitious, passionate and tech-savvy, according to business blog Devrix.
And, by 2020, Gen Z will account for 40 percent of consumers worldwide.
So we consulted experts and studies, wondering: How might Gen Z impact — and potentially reinvent — society, business and the economy of the future?
Here are 14 things we learned.
Gen Zs Are Digitally Savvy
Gen Z grew up in a digital world. As a result, they are tech-savvy and smart. Ninety percent of Gen Zs have a digital footprint, according to Sarah Sladek, founder and CEO of XYZ University. They are used to everything — from shopping to news — reaching them instantly.
“If they can’t click or swipe to instantly access the information they need, Zs quickly move on,” writes Sladek.
They have a limited attention span, want things to be quick and easy, don’t want to waste their time and are more likely to shop online than any other generation. Gen Z may be the first generation that hangs out with their friends more online and less in person.
Gen Zs Are Comfortable With Disruption
The first decade of the 21st century has been characterized by disruptive events: the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the first serious impacts of climate change, the rise of terrorism, energy issues, sustainability issues and so on.
This means it’s likely Gen Z will be more comfortable with disruption in the workplace, economy and society.
“Gen Zs tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way,” according to XYZ University.
Gen Zs Are Competitive and Want to Be Challenged
Unlike Millennials, who favor collaboration, or the independent, anti-status Gen X, Gen Z value competition, having been raised in a disrupted, uncertain world. According to XYZ University, this means “we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.”
Gen Z would rather be challenged in the workplace than appreciated, unlike Millennials, who are usually characterized as being the opposite.
Gen Zs Will Be Career Focussed
While Millennials were seen as avoiding hectic career paths, Gen Zs are the opposite. They’re growing up fast. Gen Z has seen how both Gen X and Millennials have struggled with debt, and are resolved to be more successful financially.
An XYZ University study found that 46 percent of Gen Zs have already chosen a career path, 51 percent have taken school classes focussing on their career interest and 40 percent belong to a club or team that follows a career interest.
Gen Z Wants to Be Financially Secure
While Millennials were characterized by choosing work for fulfilment, Gen Z is more likely to choose work for financial stability. According to an XYZ University study, 71 percent of Gen Zs have a paying job.
Gen Z will be the first generation since the Boomers to prioritize saving over spending as they value financial stability and working hard to earn it.
Gen Z Will Avoid Debt
Gen Z were “scarred” by the financial crisis, according to Josephine Hansom, of YouthSight, a market research company. They saw their parents struggling with debt and have grown up with a determination to avoid it.
Hansom believes Gen Z will become savers, not spenders, and will try to avoid debt. Even though most are still in their teens, 70 percent of Gen Zs keep a budget. Gen Zs will probably not acquire debt, even to buy a car.
The Gen Z distrust of debt may even extend to buying houses. They are likely to rent far longer than other generations before taking on a mortgage, according to Ross.
This may have ripple effects across the economy as Gen Z shuns loans and credit plans, preferring instead to pay cash or go without.
Gen Z Will Extend and Deepen the Sharing Economy
Millennials gave rise to the “sharing economy” as they didn’t have enough income to purchase certain goods or services. They found sharing was a way to have access without ownership, as well as a way to generate income by giving others access. Think of Airbnb or Uber, both of which have turned sharing into successful global business models.
Gen Z will continue and widen this behavior as a way to avoid debt. However, they will favor transitory use, frequent upgrades and reselling. “As a generation, Gen Z are not looking to acquire stuff. They are much more comfortable with fractional ownership, renting and selling things on,” Ross told The Sydney Morning Herald. Gen Z will only “accumulate things before having a method of disposing before they upgrade.”
Gen Z Will Be a Generation of Entrepreneurs
Gen Z's competitive nature, coupled with its ease with disruption, will make its members good entrepreneurs. Already, nearly 80 percent of them earn their own money through freelance work, a part-time job or paid chores, according to the Herald article.
A Gallup survey of Gen Z students in grades five to 12 showed that almost 80 percent of them wanted to work for themselves or set up their own businesses. Nearly half of them (42 percent) want to invent something that changes the world.
By establishing more small businesses, members of Gen Z are likely to find themselves driving future job creation.
Gen Zs, who practically live online, will use social media to start non-profits. They’ll also assess demand for, and sell, their products and services. They will combine entrepreneurial skills with a desire for more social good.
“Entrepreneurial Gen Zs are addressing social problems rather than waiting for governments to take action. They’re forming their own small businesses rather than waiting for the job market to improve,” wrote Aaron Paquette for Vision Critical.
Gen Zs Are Smart, Educated and Highly Skilled
Gen Zs see attending college as an “essential part of success” and most of them (84 percent) plan to attend college, according to an XYZ University study.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and business, especially management, finance and economics, will be popular choices for degrees. Gen Zs believe these degrees will allow them to work across different fields and secure a good job after graduation, according to the study.
Many Gen Zs don’t appear interested in continuing their education through graduate school, such as law or medicine, and taking on the debt these degrees usually demand. Many will settle for a four-year degree and start working as soon as they can. They may return to school later after establishing financial security. Therefore, Gen Z may have more mature age students attending graduate schools.
For Gen Zs who don’t attend college, many will be drawn to learn a skilled trade.
Gen Zs May End Traditional Shopping (Malls)
While Gen Zs are very comfortable shopping online, they still prefer the in-person experience. In fact, two-thirds of them would still opt for the traditional physical shopping experience, according to a 2017 study by IBM and the National Retail Federation.
But there’s a caveat. Gen Zs want shopping to be engaging and entertaining. They want malls that offer live events or activities such as rock-climbing walls, cooking classes or job fairs. Gen Zs want to feel they’re participating in a community or be excited when they shop. If retailers continue to offer only the standard “shops and food court” model, then Gen Zs will respond by ditching the malls, store closures will continue to rise and chain bankruptcies will increase.
In fact, wrote Josh Miller for XYZ University, “Retail is not dead. Rather, bad retail experiences are being evolutionarily phased out. Gen Z is on the leading edge of this retail evolution, and brands must be adaptive with the times in order to engage Gen Zs as customers and employees.”
In the future, retailers will need to develop a dual relationship with Gen Z consumers, who will be encouraged to shop in person and then buy additional products online.
Gen Zs May End Print Magazines
Every week seems to bring news of another print publication shutting down or becoming digital. As advertisers increasingly move to digital advertising, magazines struggle to get enough revenue from glossy ads to justify a hard copy. Digital Gen Zs are more accustomed to getting their news and information online and are turning away from print magazines.
The outlook for print fashion, beauty or health magazines is especially bleak. “Why buy them when we have YouTube, Instagram and blogs that are updated constantly and we can access 24/7 for free?” wrote Eliza Romero on her popular fashion blog, Aesthetic Distance.
Some publications are forming partnerships with popular online sites, such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog GOOP, or Airbnb, the home rental site, to offer quarterly or bi-monthly print editions. Once popular magazines, such as TIME, are investing more in video and television, according to a New York Times article.
However, print magazines might make an unlikely comeback with Gen Zs in the future. Kurt Anderson, a former editor of New York Magazine, said in the article, that “magazines might eventually gain a cult following akin to the interest around other obsolete media, like vinyl records.”
Gen Z Will Represent Greater Diversity and Social Inclusion
Gen Z has grown up in an age of increasing ethnic diversity, and both their racial makeup and their outlook will reflect this. Gen Z contains the largest percentage of both Hispanics (22 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (15 percent) of any previous generation, according to a 2017 Nielsen Total Audience Report. “Inclusion is not only important to them, it is expected,” wrote Sladek.
Gen Z has come of age in a world where LBGTQ and religious issues have been at the forefront of social debate and in the media.
“Gen Z teens do not like to make people feel bad,” according to a Barna Group report. “Their collective aversion to causing offense is the natural product of a pluralistic, inclusive culture that frowns on passing judgment that might provoke negative feelings in the [person being] judged.”
Gen Zs will reflect this greater diversity and tolerance in the choices they make as consumers; businesses that do not engage with or appeal to Gen Z’s diversity will swiftly find themselves losing customers or gaining negative reputations on social media.
Gen Zs will also shake up traditional politics as they rank being trustworthy and positive as the highest traits they want in a leader.
Gen Z Wants Greater Accountability and Transparency
Gen Zs will hold businesses to higher ethical standards than previous generations.
“Caring and doing good are the main connection points between brands and Gen Z consumers today, and even more important than product quality or benefits,” according to Devrix. Due to its online habits, Gen Z will constantly monitor corporations and brands, especially how well they embrace Gen Z consumers and their needs.
Companies in the future will have to tread carefully around Gen Z’s hyper-connectivity as any negative reviews or comments about a business or its products will travel far and wide.
When celebrity Kylie Jenner (at 21, a Gen Z), who has well over 25 million Twitter followers, tweeted about how she no longer used the photo sharing app SnapChat, the company stock lost 6.1 percent of its value in a single day.
Gen Z May Be the Loneliest Generation
A recent study of British youth shows that Gen Z is shaping up to be the loneliest generation so far, exceeding even aging generations. This may have a lot to do with their social media habits of connecting with people mostly online and the need to show off a picture-perfect Instagram life, which is often disconnected from reality.
The study used an eight-point scale to measure loneliness: higher levels of reported loneliness were associated with an increase in mental illness, particularly depression.
However, young people are more willing to talk about depression and anxiety. As celebrities, such as Beyoncé, Adele and Jennifer Lawrence open up about their own personal struggles, Gen Zs will find it more acceptable to talk about mental health issues, seek help and not feel ashamed.