Who is Gen Z

March 28, 2012

During the month of March I gave two presentations on Gen Z.  Have you heard of them?  Well if you haven’t you soon will.  Let me be the first to introduce you to them.

Gen Z by the Numbers
Some demographers and researchers describe them as the 1990s babies (born 1990-1999) and others use the 1995 – 2004 birth years as the defining age range.  Which means the years which define Gen Z are fluid (for now), unlike the generations we have been chatting about for years…Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, and Gen X.  Being born in the 1990s (or up until 2004) places a Gen Zer in the 8 year-old to 20 year old range.  Which means Gen Z is the basically the second half of the Millennials.  The first half of the Millennials were born in the 1980s and are now in their 20s…you know, that young kid working beside you.  (Just so I don’t confuse anyone the term “Millennial” and “Gen Y” can be used interchangeably.)

Generational Disclaimer Alert:
When I or anyone discusses the generations we are talking about 10s of millions of people and we make broad generalizations for a group of people that spans 10 to 20 years.  You are stuck in your generation because of your birth year (blame your parents if you don’t like your generation) but that does not mean you won’t have commonalities with another generation’s characteristics.  And understanding someone by their age is just one slice of the onion when it comes to understanding why someone is the way they are.

What Goes Around, Comes Around
Strauss and Howe explain that generations are cyclical and we go round and round between two types.  A team generation is followed by an individualist generation which is followed by a team generation and the cycle continues. So the theory goes Baby Boomers are a team generation, Generation X is an individualist generation, Millennials are team and Gen Z will be individualist. But Gen Z is basically the younger version of Millennials so this point could still be up for debate.  Remember – the cycle impacts how companies respond to the growth and development needs of the workforce.  Do you need the work environment to support working in teams peppered with constant feedback, or not?

World Events
For those who study the generations (or just find them interesting) you know we look at two big areas for information on what will shape a generation.  First is world events impacting the formative years and parenting styles.  Some world events to consider which will shape the perceptions and values of Gen Z are 9/11, the recent recession on a local, national and global scale, the constancy of war, global civic unrest, and new advances in technology.  Pop culture also influences a generation as well but to a lesser degree.

Impact of Technology
Most people have been describing Millennials are digital natives but when you look a little deeper, the older Millennials were in their 20s when tablet fever took hold. True, computers and cell phones were very much part of their daily lives but the speed of communication and new technology introductions really began to take hold throughout the last decade or so, meaning older Millennials didn’t grow up with that kind of technology from birth.  To be described as a native…you need to not know life without it.  Many claim Gen Z will be our true digital natives but I question if the generation following Gen Z – those under 10 years old (and all generations that follow) – will more likely deserve that label.  Consider the 5 year old who tried to change the TV channel by sliding the screen (and couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working) or the growing number of 3 year olds with their own iPads.

Who Are Their Parents and Why Do We Care?
Gen Z parents are in their 30s and 40s – for the most part – which means Gen Z is being raised by Gen X.  How Generation X raises their children will say a lot of about who they become, as a collective.  What we do know …the ‘every kid is a winner and deserves a trophy’ mantra and mindset continues for adolescents today.  And it is creeping into our preschools.  Parenting magazine (It’s Only a Game, p. 23, April 2012) ran an article on the growing trends of preschools opting to remove games with clear winners and losers.  In addition there is some traction being reported that parenting is moving from the flurry of activities (the more the better) to “slow parenting” or “free-range parenting” in which the idea is to not over-program your kid.  The recession of course plays a big role in this as well as the squeeze on the middle class.

So Gen Z is here to stay…what are your thoughts on them?


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