The differences between the generations is an interesting one; each with its own cultural and social touchpoints that are informed by the world they inherit at any given time.
Everyone has plenty to say about the baby boomers that enjoyed immense wealth and left the world with more problems than they solved, and the conscientious Gen X’ers who straddle looking after ageing parents and ‘boomerang’ children, the avocado-eating millennials. But what of the new Gen Z who come of age now into an entirely different world than any other generation before them?
Who are Gen Z?
Gen Z are those born from 1997-2012. Early research points optimistically towards this generation as being able to mobilise around causes that matter, being climate conscious, inclusive and far better equipped for a digital world than anyone else.
Gen Z have never really known a landscape that wasn’t digital. Whilst there were high hopes for millennials being the first real ‘digital natives’, we were struck a heavy hand with two financial crises and years of austerity, the impacts of which are being felt in full part today.
It is the post-millennials that are coming of age in a more sophisticated digital landscape and leveraging this with a distinct wit on social media, not taking the same beating from older generations like millennials – all of which can be characterized in trademark phrase: “Ok, boomer.”
True social media natives
The role of social media is significant in the lives of Gen Z. Whilst millennials largely began using social media to share overprocessed, questionably filtered images of their food; Gen Z cite social media as a key source of news and mechanism to mobilise in groups.
“One of the key differences about Gen Z…is the role social media plays in shaping beliefs”, writes Kate Taylor for Business Insider. Gen Z has moved away from trusting traditional news outlets: Business Insider’s poll of more than 1,800 people between the ages of 13 and 21 revealed that 59% of Gen Z participants listed social media as the top news source. More than half of those surveyed said they checked at least one social media platform for current affairs daily.
The democratization of information is powerful, but it can sometimes be problematic too; as platforms like Instagram and TikTok are convenient ways to receive political headlines, the information on complex topics can be condensed into polarizing posts which are algorithmically favoured by interaction rather than truth.
Taking climate change seriously
Gen Z are seriously carrying the baton on from millennials in wanting to address climate change. “We see young generations being more concerned, and part of it is a realization that they’re going to have to inherit a lot of the decisions,” Melissa Deckman, a political science professor at Washington College. 18 year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has become the poster child of the climate action movement, and with good reason – she is living in a generation that is seeing natural disasters take place with immeasurable force. Gen Z have moved past trying to prove the reality of climate change, they are living it. Generationally this is one of the rallying causes that all Gen Z are firmly behind, across all political divides. Which beckons well for us all if we are seriously going to do something about the world being on fire.
The most diverse generation and social inclusion
According to Pew Research Centre, Gen Z are the most ethnically diverse generation yet, which generally comes as no surprise with changing racial attitudes across the West. What is really distinct about Gen Z is that they are most comfortable with changing cultural norms around things like gender identity. Early on this generation has already been characterized by positive allyship, and mobilising around social causes in huge numbers, which point to why “Gen Z appear to have more pride in who they are than millennials” write Lisa Walden (Co-author of Managing Millennials for Dummies).
The least likely to get into debt
Whilst it may appear comical that different generations handle money in such vastly different ways, when you think about a generation on one side that only understood money to be cash and coins and another which is frustrated when contactless payments aren’t facilitated; how each generation handles money is very interesting. Some of this can also boil down to ‘what money actually is’ to each generation. Millennials have a unique perspective of initially experiencing money as mainly cash, to the uptake of chip and pin cards and now the contactless economy.
For Gen Z, handling cash is quite novel and they have a preference for using digital banks, which offer more transparency and spending analytics, as their primary accounts. Research by Zopa Money found that 70% of Gen Z were checking their balance every day which is an immense behavioural shift partly facilitated by the ease of access in digital banking. Further research by Zopa stated that over a third of Gen Z participants surveyed had over £1,000 saved and they were the least likely of the generations to take on consumer debt.
Gen Z also benefits from the democratization of information which exists via the internet, and keeps abreast of financial information in ways previous generations didn’t.
Will Gen Z be our saviours?
Gen Z makes full use of this much more sophisticated iteration of the internet and digital world. They have access to information that other generations simply did not, but they aren’t resting on their laurels – they are using this information to learn and mobilise in ways other generations failed to do.
Millennials were dealt a particularly heavy hand with the (lack of) financial opportunities they inherited, but Gen Z barely knew a world any better and they have made full use of the digital landscape.