Gen Z (a.k.a. iGen) refers to those individuals born around 1995. It’s the generation composed mostly of today’s teenagers. They were born with the internet firmly in place and with smartphone use becoming mainstream. They have no substantive recollection of 9/11, unlike Millennials (ages 21 to 37).
Although Millennials welcome the arrival of the tech-dependent Gen Zs and see them, more or less, as an extension of their own generation, there are clear differences developing between the two groups. The Millennials sparked the widespread use of social media, while Gen Zs take it for granted. Social media is far more important to them than it is for any other generation, and many Gen Zs believe that their happiness and self-esteem depend on it.
2016 The Center for Generational Kinetics
Gen Zs also differ on their choice of social media. You may be surprised to see which platform is their favorite, since few other generations have even heard of it (65% of boomers).
For those who don’t know, Vine is a site that allows members to share short, looped videos. Although only 13% think that Facebook is an appropriate social media platform for their generation, they do feel that it serves a purpose (57%). Sadly, 34% of Gen Z-ers have never heard of LinkedIn, but this could change as they reach employment age.
The Smartphone Generation
Gen Z is the first generation to live with a smartphone as an integral part of their body. The idea of living without a smartphone is unthinkable. There is even a psychological condition which occurs if this happens. It’s called, phone separation anxiety. This is, perhaps, why Gen Zs believe it is appropriate for 13-year-olds to have a smartphone, while Millennials believe this is too young, with the majority of them feeling 18 is a more appropriate age. I doubted this statistic because I’ve noticed my Gen Z son and his friends seem more liberal than this. In fact, another report found that the mean age for receiving a first smartphone is 10.3. I expect this age will continue to lower.
Keep in mind that these stats come from a 2016 study, and that opinions linked to technology are changing more quickly with each generation. Exponential changes in technology surround the Gen Zs, which lead them to accept ideas that older generations find unacceptable. For example, Gen Zs think it is acceptable to use a smartphone during religious services, during a job interview, and even during their own wedding ceremonies. Older generations would probably find these behaviors shocking, hence, future generational clashes are inevitable.
Although child-unfriendly content abounds on the internet, parental monitoring of their children’s smartphone use has declined. Only 25% monitor their use with special apps. Only 15% monitor their children’s whereabouts through GPS. The technology gap is separating parents from their children and it is not uncommon for children to be more tech-savvy than their parents. This is why, even when parents install parental control apps on their children’s smartphones, most teenagers know how to work around them.
The Troubling Influence of Social Media
As mentioned above, for the Gen Zs, social media largely determines their sense of self worth. By the age of 12, most Gen Zs have social media accounts and interactions on these accounts largely influence the way they see themselves. Keep in mind that social media includes online gaming, which has a strong social interaction component. The graphic below shows the influence social media has on Gen Z as compared to older generations.
This dependence on unknown others for self-affirmation has created a whole new set of concerns for the Gen Zs. According to Childline, a support service for children and teens, the main concern of the Gen Zs is low self-esteem and unhappiness. The chart below shows how Gen Z’s concerns have changed from those of the Millennials when they were younger.
Notice that the main concerns for Millennials were concrete, even physical, while those of the Gen Zs tend to be more psychological. This shift can largely be attributed to the influence of social media. More so than any other generation, this could be the generation of psychological problems. At this time, however, it is impossible to say how these concerns will play out as this generation ages. One thing is certain, though; social media will come under increasing scrutiny.
A Return to More Traditional Values
Several studies have shown a tendency for Gen Zs to be more like Boomers than Millennials in their values, but it’s not an across the board agreement. This values shift has been traced to the alarm the Gen Zs see when viewing the dilemmas faced by Millennials, especially when it comes to employment and education. As one Gen Z-er commented in the CGK study, “We don’t want to end up like Millennials”
The Millennials, having been raised by relatively well-off Boomers, assumed life would be relatively easy and were not prepared to encounter diversity. Gen Zs, on the other hand, were raised mainly by a generation that saw the economy plunge and who, subsequently, developed the mindset that they were living on the edge of economic uncertainty. Thus, Gen Zs show a tendency to be more cautious or realistic. Seventy-seven percent of Gen Zs feel they will have to work harder than Millennials to be successful.
Gen Zs tend to be more independent and individualistic than previous generations. Where Millennials believed that it was safe to share any personal information online, Gen Zs tend to be more careful and selective about what they share. They have seen the problems Millennials and older generations have encountered by giving up too much personal information without proper concern for security.
Gen Zs also see the financial abyss that many Millennials faced in attempting to recover the debt they acquired by paying for education. The idea of living at home with their parents is not something Gen Zs would like. Recent surveys show that about 40% of Millennials live either with their parents or other relatives. According to a Federal Reserve study, the underemployment rate for recent college graduates is around 44%. One in ten young college graduates are neither employed nor pursuing more education. They are part of the growing number of the educated idle. This all makes Gen Zs wonder if paying so much for an education is worth the investment.
There is also the shadow cast by technology’s impermanence. What is today’s must-have tech is tomorrow’s old school. Why choose to be educated for a career when that career may become obsolete? Why spend oneself into debt to prepare for an unknowable future? Notice in the chart below from the Federal Reserve report that the once highly-sought-after business management degree left over 60% of graduates underemployed. Note also that the more practical degrees offered the best chance for post graduate success.
Only 32% of current college-age Gen Zs believe they are being properly prepared for future careers. This mindset may lead Gen Zs to pursue alternative forms of education.
Gen Zs face a future that is more unpredictable than it has ever been. This uncertainty forces them to live in the present more than any other generation. They believe in hard work, they’re pragmatic and realize the value of face-to-face communication, but within limits. Seventy-one percent of Generation Z said they believe the phrase “if you want it done right, then do it yourself.” And 69% would rather work in a private rather than a shared work space.
However, there is a disclaimer behind all of these statistics. That is, how will these attitudes change when they enter universities and companies? What do teenagers really know of the workings of the ‘real world’? Like most teenagers, the Gen Zs are optimistic and believe in the American Dream (78%). Their independent attitudes and their belief in on-demand technology may make them difficult employees, especially in terms of cyber security. They may be more willing to challenge educational norms and opinions professors try to thrust upon them because they have probably been doing this on social networks. Nonetheless, predicting how they will fit into mainstream life is as difficult as predicting the future of technology.