There is group of people in the United States that is over 23 million strong and growing. By 2020, they will account for somewhere between one-third and 40% of U.S. population, and will be the fastest growing generation in both the workplace and the marketplace. Even now, they already contribute more than $44 billion to the economy.
And most of them have yet to even graduate high school.
I’m not talking about Millennials. I’m talking about Generation Z.
Sometimes referred to as Post-Millennials or the iGeneration (because they’ve grown up with… you get it), Generation Z is the future, and is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Since so many people and businesses were vastly unprepared for the Millennials, their habits, and the changes they brought to the social and economic landscapes, it’s worth taking a bit of time to understand the iGen a bit better now, so we can be more prepared for them by the time they are standing in our doorways in just a few years.
Who is Generation Z?
Generation Z is the generation after the Millennials (or as they were once called, Generation Y). The cutoff date is generally considered to be around 1995 or 1996. The reason for this late nineties birthdate as opposed to a clean break at the year 2000 is September 11th. 9/11 was a pivotal, world-changing point in our history, and Millennials grew up either fully, or at least somewhat aware of that, having been old enough to remember it vividly. Gen Zers on the other hand, were too young to remember 9/11, or have any significant knowledge of experience of the world as it was beforehand. They were born into, and have grown up in, a world where terrorism, homeland security, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of the regular lexicon.
Perhaps more personally defining for members of Generation Z is that they have grown up in a world where the internet, smartphones and social media are all in full swing. Millennials remember playing Snake and Brick-breaker and on early black and white flip-phones, and connecting to AOL using dial-up internet. But for Generation Z, the internet has always been a part of the fabric of their lives. They are completely comfortable with the internet and all that comes along with it, including all forms of social media, streaming music, streaming video, click-holes, Wikipedia, YouTube, and so on. Their expectations are that they will receive information quickly, and that they can find an answer to almost any question they can think of.
Gen Z Characteristics
So what is Gen Z like? While many of them are still too young to tell, early indications seem to be that Gen Z self-aware, pragmatic, and innovative – much more-so than the Millennials that came before them. This partially comes from having grown up at least in part during the Great Recession, where families may have been forced to be more frugal and have a better understanding of value. It could also be in-part due to who their parents are. Millennials are the children of the Baby Boomers (who were the children of the Greatest Generation, who lived through World War II). Baby Boomers had the goal of raising their kids to have an “easier life” than they had, and took a very hands-on, “helicopter parenting” style. Generation Z are the children of Millennials and Generation X, who have had a different parental approach, seeming to veer more toward wanting their kids to figure things out for themselves.
The self-awareness of Generation Z has created a real contrast with the Millennials, as Generation Z is acutely aware of the criticisms that Millennials have facedand are eager to avoid being seen the same way. They are also more cognizant of their place in the world and in society, being more socially and environmentally conscious than generations that have come before them. Gen Z is concerned about how they are impacting the environment and with social injustices. They volunteer, and want their careers to have a positive impact. They also want their careers to be more stable, valuing a steady paycheck and career-fields that are less likely to be affected by automation.
Gen Z Demographics
It’s expected that more members of Generation Z will go to college and end up with degrees in higher education than any other generation that’s come before. So, they will be highly educated through institutional means. They will also be highly educated in other ways though. Since they are growing up with lightning-fast internet and smartphones at their fingertips, their access to information is unprecedented. They have the ability to answer virtually any question, research virtually any topic, and learn virtually any skill through articles, websites, and of course, YouTube videos.
Generation Z is also extremely diverse, and in more ways than one. They are more diverse than Millennials, coming from a greater mix of background and cultures just within the U.S. But, because so much of their lives are lived online, they also have a greater connection to their fellow citizens of the world, no matter where they lie geographically. It has even been suggested that members of Generation Z have more in common with people of similar age around the world than they do with people of older generations right in their own neighborhoods.
Generation Z’s Impact
Nobody is really sure yet exactly what impact Generation Z will have on the workforce when they get there, but they are coming soon, and they are coming in large numbers. Businesses from almost any industry should not be surprised if Generation Z starts causing shifts in the way they operate thanks to their unique qualities, especially in contrat to Millennials. Their digital footprint will likely change the way advertisers focus and spend money as compared to today. And their economic footprint will ensure that businesses cater to them.