- Like every generation, Gen Z is coming of age with unique experiences, challenges, and events that are shaping their worldview
- Understanding Gen Z’s experiences, perspective, and the events that shape them helps to reveal similarities and differences between them and other generations at the same life stage
- Bringing awareness, understanding, and mutual respect across generations helps to bridge the generation gap and unlock the strengths that each generation brings
Gen Z, the fastest-emerging generation of workers, consumers, trendsetters, and students, are coming of age in a very different world than their parents. The Covid-19 pandemic. Ubiquitous smartphone technology. The Great Resignation. Social media. Social justice. Cryptocurrency. Digital payments. Social distancing. A war in Ukraine. And much more.
At the same time, they’re experiencing these events, challenges, trends, and influences at key life stages ranging from adolescence to twentysomethings. In addition to navigating these generation-shaping experiences at a highly impressionable time in their youth and early adulthood, some people in older generations are looking at Gen Z through and making judgments about the generation that are only growing the generational divide, building mistrust, and fueling misunderstanding. We are on a mission to bridge this divide!
Recently, CGK President Jason Dorsey spoke with the BBC to share The Center for Generational Kinetics’ ongoing research into Gen Z, debunk the myths that surround this up-and-coming generation, and share what every generation needs to know about generational change now.
“The reality is that Gen Z is coming of age facing a variety of challenges that other generations have not faced at the same life stage, most notably the Covid-19 pandemic and the always-on pressure of social media directly to their smartphone. Add in the mental-health challenges of social distancing and isolation during the pandemic, distance-learning challenges, and all the formative elements of young adulthood, and it’s easy to see why the generation is feeling like it’s a challenging time.”
In many ways, Gen Z is facing an onslaught of challenges delivered, amplified, and vividly reinforced constantly through every digital platform, 24/7/365. At the same time, they’ve gone through a painfully vulnerable period where their youth was turned upside down. Death counts were shown daily on every news-sharing device, their plans to be together with friends and make lifelong memories were replaced with Zoom classes and canceled graduations, they stayed up at night worrying about the health of family members, friends, classmates, and neighbors.
Add on top of that, the lack of control they felt because of enforced social distancing, and the generation delaying getting their driver’s license, delaying entering the workforce, and almost two years of feeling like their best-laid plans were lost or entirely at-risk. The social pressure continues to amp up, and study after study shows that depression, anxiety, and a variety of painful mental health challenges have created a mental health crisis for Generation Z.
Yet, the generation continues to grind forward, type forward, march forward, and just keep going—doing their best to adapt to new approaches to learning, work, relationships, politics, society, and more. They were a generation that increased their workforce participation rate last summer, and they are the ones who are increasingly taking the jobs that others are shunning during The Great Resignation.
Are they a perfect generation? No. Of course not. But no generation is perfect—no matter how wonderful the rose-colored glasses of old memories and vintage movies can make a past generation seem. The key is that Gen Z persists. They may not be navigating life exactly like other generations—but no other generation has faced the same things they’re experiencing in the ways they are going through it.
All of this was why Jason was so fired up to talk with the BBC about whether or not Gen Z is, as some claim, “weaker” than previous generations. His answer: No, they’re not weaker. They’re just different. They’re moving through the awkward teen and pre-teen years, as well as the find-yourself-twenties, in the face of a pandemic, with endless online trolls, extraordinary polarization in the US and many other countries, and a huge gulf of uncertainty about what the future will hold for them—from education to housing to navigating if they’ll have to show up to work in-person or will work virtually with a team they may never meet face to face.
Yes, the generation has challenges.
Their expectations are often high. They have different work styles. They are often dependent on their digital devices. They don’t back down when it comes to socially-charged causes they believe in. But we’d argue all of those observations, on the whole, are good things and will become long-term positives. Others may not agree with the generation’s views or even oppose their view—but that doesn’t make either side right or wrong. It just makes Gen Z a new and different generation, like every generation before them—and every generation to come after them.
What is for certain is that Gen Z will make an impact by being different from Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. It is, after all, the cycle of generations and generational change!
“It’s awareness of what these different generations have gone through, why they are the way they are. The best way to get older generations to stop dumping on younger generations is to create a dialogue that simply does not exist right now. Instead of having candid conversations across multiple generations, we have viral memes that say younger people are snowflakes and older people are dinosaurs. But the truth is that we’re all human.”
We love studying generations. Every. Single. One.
Each generation brings something different to the world, making their own mark (intentionally or not), and paving the way for future generations. Or, as Jason frequently talks about when it comes to parenting styles shaping generations, the people often most critical of the emerging generations are many times the parents and grandparents who raised or influenced the new generation!
At The Center for Generational Kinetics, it is an exciting time to study Generation Z as they further enter adulthood and find their path. We will continue to closely study this generation as they emerge and begin to further shape our world, including impacting older generations. Be on the lookout for our next State of Gen Z® study coming out soon!
Thank you, as always, for being on this journey of research, insights, and discovery with us and Generation Z.