What is Gen Z, you ask? We’ve all heard about generation X (aka, people born between the 1960s to the early 1980s, after the WWII baby boom), and generation Y (otherwise known as Millennials, born between the 1980s and 2000s). But what about all the youngsters out there—kids born in the 2000s, who will never know what it was like to wait for dial-up Internet to connect, or what happens when you sift through a library’s cart catalogue. This digital generation is a whole new breed of human, and whether you are a market researcher, a technology entrepreneur or a parent, it’s about time you get to know Generation Z.
There is some disagreement about exactly what defines Generation Z. As the NY Times reports, “demographers place its beginning anywhere from the early ’90s to the mid-2000s. Marketers and trend forecasters, however, who tend to slice generations into bite-size units, often characterize this group as a roughly 15-year block starting around 1996, making them 5 to 19 years old now.”
Now we know how old they are, but perhaps more important, who are they? What are they interested in? What defines their childhood? How do they interact and what motivates them? While a Millennial came of age when AOL and email were first introduced to the public and cell phones didn’t exist, Gen Z kids are growing up with an iPhone in hand, oblivious to a world without the Internet. Many kids can navigate an iPad with a few swift swipes long before they can read or recognize colors. (Yes, we’re serious; we’ve seen 2-year-olds do it with our own eyes.) All of these facts are crucial nuggets of information if you hope to relate to these individuals. Here is what you need to know about Generation Z.
They are Self-Taught and Driven by Curiosity Because information is so readily available to them (thank you Internet) these kids are self-taught and can embrace their interests and curiosities in an instant. They watch a YouTube video to learn about the latest beauty trends, and they seek out this information on their own, because they’re so savvy with technology.
Most of Their Interactions Are Online Speaking of communicating with friends, they don’t really do it in person. Sure, they hang out at school and after school activities. But when you were a kid, you called your friend on the phone, you scheduled a play date, you wrote letters to pen pals and you waited patiently to receive birthday party invitations and cards in the mail. These days, everything is digital. Emily Citarella, a 16-year-old high school student in Atlanta, explains in an article for the NY Times, “when I think of Generation Z, technology is the first thing that comes to mind. I know people who have made their closest relationships from Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook.”
They Know What They Want, And They Want it NOW Blame it on Google or smart phones or the fact that these kids are growing up with unlimited access to pretty much anything they need to know, but this generation is used to not only knowing what they want, but getting it FAST. Gone are the days of waiting for catalogs to arrive in the mail, then waiting weeks for your package to arrive. Gone are the days of waiting for your brother to get off the phone so you can call your best friend on your family’s one and only landline. Gone are the days of waiting every week for your favorite show to air on TV. These kids are used to streaming their shows on demand, shopping online (and same-day shipping), and they spend all day texting or communicating with friends on social media.
They Come from more Culturally Diverse Family Backgrounds Times have certainly changed from when you were a kid, especially when it comes to family demographics and diversity. In fact, they’ve changed drastically in the last few years. Once upon a time same-sex relationships were controversial, now same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. And more families are mixed race or raised by same-sex couples than ever before. The NY Times reports that between 2000 and 2010 “the number of Americans self-identifying as mixed white-and-black biracial rose 134 percent. The number of Americans of mixed white and Asian descent grew by 87 percent.”
They are less Attached to Traditional Gender Roles The idea of a woman belongs in the kitchen while the man goes to work has been outdated for a while. And this generation takes that modern approach to gender to another level. They are growing up seeing transsexual individuals become more widely accepted by society, and according to Lucie Greene, a trend forecaster at J. Walter Thompson, “this group seem much less attached to traditional gender binaries or linear definitions of sexuality…It’s all about individualism and the right to be whatever you want.”
They take digital to a new level. This generation literally does not know a time before social media, the Internet, email, Snapchat, streaming content etc. When you say “back in my day we had to actually pick up the phone to talk to a friend…” they will roll their eyes and continue multi-tasking on their cell phone with ease. According to a study conducted by US consultancy Sparks and Honey, “the average Generation Z-er spends more than three hours a day in front of a screen.” These kids were born with technology in hand, and they are used to always knowing what is going on with their friends, peers, celebrities and pop culture.