The New Kid In Town: Gen Z
by Cari Peek
It can be mind-blowing to take a step back and really contemplate the progression of “the generations.”It really wasn’t that long ago that most women didn’t work outside the home; children were expected to be seen and not heard; television made its way into our homes (in the form of a heavy, bulky, black-and-white screens, and only 1 per household); and the Civil Rights Act was passed, suspending all state and local laws that required segregation. It’s interesting to think about how events in today’s world will shape the future.
The Gen Z generation, those born between 1997 and 2012, is no exception. As someone so aptly put it, this young generation has already experienced “a lifetime of once-in-a-lifetime events” that will forever shape how they think and act: the Great Recession; school shootings; an increasingly divisive and hostile political environment; #MeToo, BLM, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
As you read the details that follow, I challenge you to think about your brand and how Gen Z’s perspective on these events and societal norms may impact it.
- Racial & Ethnic Diversity. Gen Z is a generation growing up in an increasingly diverse world. Since the early 2000s, the non-Hispanic white population in the United States has declined substantially. Census projections indicate that people of color will become the majority of the U.S. population in the next 20 to 25 years. In fact, Gen Z is expected to be the last majority-white generation in the U.S.
The social unrest around the Black Lives Matter movement is likely to have a profound and lasting impact on Gen Z. They’ve not known an America that hasn’t had a black president. Racial and ethnic diversity lies at the core of who Gen Z is.
- LGBTQ+ Acceptance. Diversity transcends race for Gen Z. This generation that grew up with our first black president in office, also grew up in an era where same-sex marriage is a norm and in which the LGBTQ+ population has had high social visibility. More and more, everything from TV commercials, show plotlines, and even high-profile roles in our political system are increasing visibility and representation of the LGBTQ+ population.
A recent Gallup poll cited that more Gen Z identify as LGBTQ+ than any generation before them; nearly double that of Millennials, and four times that of Gen X.
- Digital Natives. Many in Gen Z have had exposure to mobile devices almost from birth. Virtually unlimited information is just a click away. Compare that to just two generations earlier, with Generation X youth requiring an encyclopedia or a trip to the library.
Also, like Millennials, Gen Z is forced to navigate through all of the “noise” the internet has to offer. As such, these younger generations have learned to become much more selective about who or what they give their attention to. Gen Z is forced to process this abundance of information faster than generations before them did. A recent study calculated that Gen Z filters and makes decisions on whether to further engage with content in 8 seconds or less—that’s 4 seconds shorter than for Millennials.
Gen Z is also learning from their predecessor’s social media failures. They tend to have multiple social media accounts and are far more limiting than Millennials on who they let into their personal accounts. For Gen Z, social media is more about quality and depth than it is about number of connections. They have a preference for apps like TikTok or Snapchat over Facebook—apps where they can engage anonymously and their posts will disappear. Gen Z is also more likely to use private browsing, ad blockers, and to regularly delete cookies on their devices.
- The Best-Educated Generation. Gen Z is on track to be the most educated generation in history. This is a generation that seeks out knowledge and loves to learn, both inside and outside of the classroom. They are known to spend hours watching videos and consuming content for the sole purpose of learning a new skill. And unlike older generations who made a pastime out of teasing the smart kids, Gen Z wears their intelligence like a badge of honor.
Gen Z is more likely than previous generations to be enrolled in college; and colleges and universities across the country are seeing an uptick in students choosing majors in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). They are entering college with their future earning potential as top-of-mind, choosing career paths that pay well and setting passion to the side.
- Money Worries. Having grown up during the Great Recession and witnessing the financial hardships some of their families faced, Gen Z tends to understand the importance of being prepared for an uncertain financial future. They are prioritizing finances from an early age. Having watched Millennials emerge from college with tremendous debt, they are determined to avoid the same fate. As such:
- On average, they start a savings account by the time they’re 13 years old.
- 20% of Gen Z say that “debt should be avoided at all cost.”
- Nearly 40% prefer to save the money they’ve earned.
Social, economic, political, and technological advancements make a mark on each generation. And while every human is different, understanding their generational mindset is vital to helping marketers better understand how to reach and communicate with consumers. Currently, Gen Z represents $44 billion in direct buying power in the U.S. – and most don’t even have jobs yet. Continuing to monitor and learn how this generation is impacted, and more importantly, how your company should communicate with and cater to Gen Z, will only serve to benefit your brand.
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