As an educator, I have had a long interest in all the discussions of “generations” and their attitudes towards school, technology, media etc. At NJIT, at the turn of the new century, we ran workshops and focus groups on teaching the Millennials. People would point to members of that generation, like Mark Zuckerberg, and say that these students would reject higher education and start their own companies in the hope of earning their own first billion dollars by the age of 23.
That didn’t happen, but they are a different generation of students than those I taught on the 1970s.
The Millennials are of somewhat less interest these days to educators as they age up (though there is still interest in them as consumers and people still discuss marketing to millennials) and attention is turning to the kids who follow them. Beside educators, they are of interest to market researchers, cultural observers and trend forecasters. Hello, Generation Z.
They are young. The oldest members are just out of high school and most of them are tweens and teens. But they will be the influencers of tomorrow. Marketers have an eye to the billions in spending power they hold. Can we figure them out now and build awareness and brand loyalty while they are young? Will there even be such a thing as brand loyalty when they hit their twenties?
The New York Times had a piece recently about Generation Z and those that came before them and according to some forecasters, they are the “next big retail disruptor.”
These generation labels are not really even agreed upon in the years they span or the descriptors used to label them. A millennial can be defined as a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000. Demographers seem to like to use 15 year blocks of time. That makes millennials probably born between 1980 and 1995, so they are about 22-35 years old now. These are my sons. They are out of college, in the workforce, marrying, buying homes and having children. They are important consumers.
Millennials grew up in the boom and relative peace of the 1990s, but they also saw our country crash on September 11 and financially crash in 2000 and again in 2008. The second half of their youth took place in an age of terrorism. They had computers as kids, though it might have been an Apple IIe with 5.25 inch and very floppy disks. They had a fledgling Internet and slow modems. They discovered social media at the age that Mark Zuckerberg thought they were ready (age 13, if they were playing by the rules). They saw many of the social media platforms they used disappear (FriendFeed, MySpace) and others, like Facebook make billions of dollars.
They were not digital natives for smartphones and tablets, though older generations assumed that they would take to it more readily.
Alex, second from right, with her book and phone and her modern family
The Times article says that Alex, the middle-child character on TVs Modern Family, is Gen Z. She just graduated high school and is conscientious, hard-working, self-describes as nerdy and is anxious and very concerned with her future. Her younger brother and slightly older sister are probably Gen Z too, but they don’t fit that description.
Following that 15-year block, they were born between 1995 and 2010 (some overlap of generations in the first and last years with that system).
You’ll find this generation also called the Post-Millennial, iGeneration, or (in the U.S.) the Homeland Generation. Generation Z is really the first generation that are digital natives. They were playing with their parents’ phones when they were in their car seat. There always was an Internet. Everyone uses social media. Even their parents use Facebook – which means it is time to use something else.
Who are the parents of Generation Z? They were raised by Baby Boomers, like me, and the sometimes-forgotten Generation X. Gen X was that smaller in-between generation that was post-Vietnam and post-Watergate. There were a lot of latchkey kids growing up in the 1970s. They tried to give their kids more attention and, like most generations, a better childhood. They were concerned about schooling, foods and health. They wrote are read mommy blogs.
If you are wondering what happened to Gen Y – the demographic cohort between Generation X and Generation Z – they were relabeled the Millennials.
I think it is an unfortunate generalization by some marketers that Gen Z is seen as a group that you need to communicate to in 5 words, images and emojis. Does Generation Z have more awareness of their personal brand? I think that may be a safer generalization.
More important to note is that Gen Z a generation more dominated by a Hispanic population. According to the Census Bureau, in the first 10 years of this century, the U.S. Hispanic population grew at four times the rate of the total population according to the Census Bureau. The number of Americans of mixed white and Asian descent grew by 87% and the number self-identifying as biracial white and black rose 134%. Gen Z has been hearing about same-sex marriages for a long time, and they grew up with an African-American president.
TV Alex’s extended family has a gay couple, a Hispanic step-grandmother who doesn’t look like anyone’s grandma, an adopted Asian, a working mom and a sensitive dad.
The Times article also notes that if you think overall about Gen Z and their concerns with privacy and about getting a good career and being middle or really more upper-middle-class, they don’t really look like Millennials. They probably look more like their grandparents’ generation.
That large demographic is known as the Silent Generation. They were born from the mid-1920s to the early 1940s. They were shaped by two world wars and the Great Depression. The younger ones grew up in the fifties and sixties with a Cold War, nuclear threats and lots of television.
There are no obvious answers to how to reach Generation Z, but these kids may want to start their own online company instead of working summers at Burger King. Remember that the Silent Generation was not only very job and career-focused but it was also the richest generation.
Is it too early to worry about the next generation of toddlers born since 2010? The oldest ones are entered kindergarten this fall.
This Generation Alpha (or whatever we decide to call them when we start over on the alphabet) is ready for virtual reality.
Marketers and educators, be prepared.