Generation Z: Who are they and what do they want?
In the tight-knit community of go-kart racing, 12-year-old Logan Meyer is well-connected.
The Yorba Linda, California, tween has friends across the country — even around the world — with whom he keeps in close contact, updating them on his daily highlights and triumphs.
Many of these friends Logan knows only through photo-sharing platform Instagram. In a moment he is transported to Europe or New York, where he is connected with friends he’s never met in person. In essence, these friends are pen pals, but the ability to visually connect and talk instantaneously fosters Logan’s ability to remain close with people a world away.
Among members of Generation Z, Logan is in good company. One of the defining characteristics of the youngest living generation, which basically includes anyone under 21, is that they’re extremely comfortable with technology. After all, when they were born the Internet already was widely adopted.
In addition to an added ease with technology, Generation Z’s members possess an entrepreneurial streak and a passion for social justice causes.
A Pew Research Center study released over the summer found that the Internet has become a powerful tool in building friendships among strangers for teens, with 57 percent of those between 13 and 17 reporting that they made a new friend online. A greater proportion of boys (61 percent) has made a friend online than girls (52 percent).
Logan falls into a category with 29 percent of his peers who reported meeting at least five friends online.
This online-savvy generation has developed mores that are more liberal than those of previous generations.
“For this generation, gay marriage is one of those issues becoming encompassed rather than stigmatized,” said David Frederick, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Chapman University.
A study of Gen Z’ers by Northeastern University found the group resoundingly supports equality, with 73 percent of those surveyed supporting gay marriage and 74 percent supporting transgender rights. Young people also overwhelmingly support a racially diverse America, with 73 percent saying they believe it’s important.
Social media outlets facilitate young people’s ability to share these opinions with a wide swath of the population. In years past, the only outlet for self-expression and sharing political beliefs was writing to a newspaper’s opinion section, Frederick says. Now, young people can publicly take a stance on an issue on their own social media platforms.
“It becomes a greater part of your identity,” Frederick said.
Finding their communities
Social media have helped young people find their own communities. Through YouTube vlogs, or video blogs, transgender teens have created an online community where they share their experiences transitioning from the gender they were assigned at birth to the one with which they identify. These vlogs also document their experiences in talking with family about their transition and the daily challenges of being a young person transitioning.
Last year, the TLC network launched the reality series “I Am Jazz,” which follows 15-year-old trans-teen Jazz Jennings documenting her high school experiences. Jennings keeps up her YouTube channel with videos ranging from tips on skin care to more serious Q-and-As on what it means to be transgender.
“I am a 12 year old boy but I want to be a girl. What should i do?” one commenter wrote on a recent YouTube vlog from Jennings. “My name is Dylan but if I was a girl my name would be Brianna. You are a nice kid.”
Partial to privacy
While YouTube videos live in perpetuity, many Gen Z youngsters are opting out of engaging with permanent platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and instead migrating to anonymous sharing websites.
Attuned to the permanence and tracking found in many mainstream social media platforms, these young people instead prefer social media that leave no trace, such as Snapchat, which purports to delete messages in seconds once they’re sent, and Whisper, an anonymous secret sharing platform.
They’ve also developed their own texting language, filled with Emojis and long, difficult-to-decipher acronyms.
‘Silent Generation’ similarities
Because of Gen Z’ers’ tendency to champion civil rights issues and their entrepreneurial spirit, people have drawn parallels between them and the so-called silent generation, those born between the mid-1920s and mid-1940s, and who lived through or in the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression.
Like the silent generation, these young people will have experienced economic crisis — for Gen Z the Great Recession of 2007 — and its aftermath during formative years of childhood.
A study performed by research firm Sparks & Honey found that nearly three-quarters of Americans were affected by the recession, at a time when these young people were developing life skills and forming their personalities. Seeing their older millennial siblings struggling to leave home and get jobs during the recession was a formative experience for this generation, Sparks & Honey found.
Perhaps because of this, these young people are financially conscientious. An estimated 42 percent of the youngest generation expect to work for themselves at some point in their life, according to the Northeastern University study. Some 72 percent of high schoolers surveyed by Sparks & Honey said they want to start their own business, compared with 64 percent of college students.
However, other studies have labeled these young people as risk-averse. They worry about the economy and what things cost more than they do about government, cybercrime, their parents’ job security or terrorism, the Sparks & Honey study found.
And these young people have buying power that large companies want to tap into. On average, Gen Z’ers receive $16.90 in allowance weekly, which adds up to $44 billion a year for all Gen Z’ers in the United States, according to the Sparks & Honey survey.
Gen Z’ers are less brand-loyal than previous generations and increasingly shop online. For products from shoes and fashion accessories to sports equipment and beauty products, more than half of the teens surveyed said they preferred shopping online to in-person shopping.
Marketing firms are finding ways to attract these young spenders with more targeted campaigns, inviting young people to post photos of themselves using a product on social media platforms rather than promoting ads made in-house, trade publication Branding Magazine found.
As Gen Z’ers change the ways in which people connect with each other and as their numbers grow, the body of work that studies what defines and drives them will continue to grow, as well.