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Generation Z

What you should know about the generation that will soon run our world.

Wikipedia, CC 3.0
Source: Wikipedia, CC 3.0

Generation Z, the people currently ages 13 to 20, will soon run our world. And while, of course, there's great variation among Gen Z'ers, you may find it helpful to consider these generalizations.

Z'ers having grown up with a smartphone has led them to expect information and entertainment on-demand, instantly, and in phone-sized bites. Facebook, Instagram, video games, and YouTube? Definitely. Books? Definitely not. Sorry, schools.

Sexually, Gen Z has seen and, in many cases, done it all. That’s part of why they flock to social media sites like Secret, Whisper, and Snapchat, where you can post text, images, or video anonymously and delete them at will. Gen Z's sex idol PewDiePie is the #1 most subscribed YouTube channel in the world: 70,000,000 subscribers. You gotta see it to believe it. It doesn't seem to bother Gen Z'ers that he's anti-Semitic. Millennials’ big sex worry was AIDS. Gen Z'ers' big worry, especially guys', may be a tribunal. Men especially must be darn sure that no matter how much someone twerked or teased on a dating site (the #1 way for Gen Z’ers to find people to “hang out" with,) they received an unambiguous come-hither before going beyond first base lest they be brought before a university and even high school Star Chamber that may de-facto presume guilty until proven innocent.

Gen Z isn’t quite old enough to include many college graduates but we can get the picture from the cohort just a year or two older. First off, almost half aren’t graduating---41% don't graduate even if given six years! And even many graduates, despite spending all that time and money, have grown frighteningly little in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing. According to the most recent College Learning Assessment (See figure 2,) 4 in 10 graduates scored "Below Proficient." So it’s no surprise that, according to an AdeccoUSA nationwide survey of 1,001 Gen Z'ers and Millennials, only 38% of Gen Zs believe that college provided good career preparation. Millennials have been in the workplace a while and so are in a better position to assess that. Alas, an even lower percentage of Millennials agree: only 28 percent!

Gen Z’ers have, however, well-learned some lessons. For example, they’ve learned to disdain business. A 2015 AFP synthesis said that for Gen Z, “The idea of ‘business’ brings up negative responses: 'complicated', 'brutal', 'a jungle'."

Yet a 2015 Northeastern University nationwide survey found that 42 percent of Z'ers want to run their own business and a Sparks & Honey survey found 61 to 72 percent do. (See Slide 24.) Let’s hope Z'ers are more ethical than the bad actors the colleges and media choose to focus on. Alas, Gen Z’s proclivity for downloading pirated music, books, and videos rather than paying for them (Yes, Gomer, that is stealing) doesn’t provide great basis for optimism.

That’s not to say that Gen Z is more frivolous than previous generations. According to a Marketo survey, 60% want a job that "impacts the world." But they're aware that affording college, finding a good job, and affording a house are tougher than they were for their parents. According to the AdeccoUSA survey, compared with Millennials, Gen Zs are far more concerned about the cost of education. And according to that AFP synthesis, most Z'ers "say they're 'stressed out' by what they see as a bleak future."

Yet Z’ers refuse to prematurely capitulate to excessive pragmatism. Many want it all: their dream job; whether in entertainment, tech, or nonprofit but don’t want to work the long hours their parents work. According to the Marketo survey, 76 percent aim to "make their hobby their job." And they believe (and unfortunately, it’s too often true) that who you know is more important than what you know.

Gen Z has also learned to be assiduously politically correct, for example, hierarchy bad, teamwork and consensus decision-making good. Multiculturalism, from music to interracial dating to transgenderism, is the norm. For example, according to the Northeastern survey, 74% of Gen Z'ers support equal rights for transgendered people. It’s cool to wear Arab scarves, speak Spanish, and follow the latest African-American fads. After all, America is becoming ever-more non-white. For example, according to the New York Times, "between 2000 and 2010, the country’s Hispanic population grew at four times the rate of the total population, according to the Census Bureau. 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."

So what does it all mean?

Of course, broad-brush generalizations are far from perfect--two people within Gen Z can be wildly different. But as we think about interacting with young people, it may be useful to remember that Z'ers prefer their information and entertainment short and more visual than text. They at least profess politically correct values. Most are idealistic yet worry they'll live harder lives than did their parents. So rather than indulge the common temptation to dismiss the next generation, we may want to cut Z'ers a little slack.