Trending Now: Generation Z

La Monica Everett-Haynes
Nov. 8, 2013

This feature is the first in a four-part series about the differences and similarities between baby boomers, Millennials and a newly defined subculture, Generation Z.

A new subculture has been identified: Generation Z, a distinctive group of young adults who were born sometime around 1995 and are now entering college.

You may be thinking, "Wait, weren't we just talking about Generation X and the Millennials? How can we be already talking about a new generation?"

But it's true, said Corey Seemiller, director of Leadership Programs at the UA.

"Generations continue to get shorter and shorter," Seemiller said. "As they progress, technologically and socially, they are beginning to change more rapidly. So you can't generalize generational characteristics over a 30-year period like we once did."

Coinciding with Seemiller's observations, Beloit College recently released its Mindset List for the class of 2017 – which includes Gen Z, a group researchers haved determine were born after the Millennials. As Beloit reports, these über-connected young adults are highly engaged, socially conscious and tech-immersed.

Seemiller shares even more research and insights, emphasizing that while there still remains some uncertainty about Gen Z, the class appears to be distinctive in some important ways. 

So what is Generation Z all about?

A Sharing Generation That's All Technology, All the Time

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The pervasive use of technology is likely the most obvious characteristic of Generation Z, and it's a characteristic the generation shares with the Millennials.

Members of Generation Z live their lives online, and they love sharing both the intimate and mundane details of life, whether that be their relationship status, a restaurant review or an Instagram photo of themselves lounging on the beach.

Seemiller cited research that found about 50 percent of Generation Z members will send at least 50 texts each day. Read that slowly: 50 texts a day.

"They love to contribute their knowledge and opinions online," Seemiller said, citing research that found 8 percent of Gen Z members use Twitter while 93 percent use YouTube to view, upload and comment on videos.

"They like to engage in the co-construction of knowledge; they don't like to just be recipients of communication," Seemiller said. "They do that to feel good about themselves. They find that sharing online is entertaining, and they like to learn new things that way."

Generation Z tends not to use blogs, detests emailing and avoids voice messaging. Why? "Too many words," Seemiller said, citing research indicating that the current generation is especially fond of "short communication bursts."

While members of Generation Z are all about sharing, when they do so via social media they like to keep it on point and brief.

Generation Z and Millennials Not the Same Thing

"Here we are, just figuring out Millennials and one blatant misconception is that Generation Z is just an extension of Millennials," Seemiller said.

While both Generation Z and Millennials are collaborative, tech-savvy and socially engaged, major differences do exist.

For example, Millennials are known to be very reward-oriented. For Gen Z, gratuitous pats on the back are not as important; they do not generally desire that type of endorsement, Seemiller said. "They are more of a humble crew."

Also, unlike Millennials, Gen Z tends to be a bit less rebellious. You can see that in their interactions with their parents, Seemiller said. "They tend to follow authority because they respect their parents."

But, as noted below, that does not mean that they do not question established rules, regulations and traditions.

Generation Z + Parents = Besties

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Speaking of interactions with parents, as Seemiller puts it, "Generation X is raising Generation Z."

Unlike earlier generations, Gen Z appears to have much more in common with their parents and appear to be quite trusting of their parents.

They may enjoy listening to the same type of music and watching the same television shows. Also, they don't tend to be embarrassed hanging out with their parents.

"They aren't just helicopter parents; Generation Z will consult their parents. That means their parents have a different role," Seemiller said. "They are more likely to see their parents, rather than celebrities, as heroes."

Seemiller said this is largely because the parents of Gen Z worked to instill resiliency in their children, which Gen Z members respect and appreciate.

Service With Purpose

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Remember when we mentioned authority earlier?

While Gen Z members do appear to have more of an appreciation for authority figures, such as their parents, that does not mean that they do not critically consider established rules and traditions.

In fact, Generation Z is hugely concerned with sociopolitical issues, locally and globally. They tend to be acutely aware that they live in pluralistic society and tend to embrace diversity.

"They are incredibly open-minded, respectful and tolerant of others," Seemiller said. "And they expect to see diversity around them."

For Generation Z, "cultural difference" means more than race or gender-based variation. This translates directly into how they engage in service.

"Because of the power of social networking and the Internet, they are incredibly aware of what is going on around them in the world," Seemiller said. "They are incredibly connected in that sense, and are more aware that there are a lot of social justice issues and other deep seated problems."

So don't expect that Gen Z will show up to your bake sale with wholehearted enthusiasm merely because there is a social service component. This generation wants to tackle serious problems at the root, Seemiller said.

"They have to have an emotional connection to a problem and feel like they are addressing the problem, not the symptoms. I see this as a generational shift. They want it to count for something; they want to delve much deeper into the problem."

Expectations for the Future

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Generation Z tends to be less optimistic about their futures than their older counterparts.

Why? This is the generation that has seen the U.S. and other nations enter war after war and has seen one of the most devastating economic declines in modern world history. Generation Z is aware of increasing college costs with unprecedented rates of loan defaults and huge unemployment rates in the current century.

For a group that is generally globally minded, socially conscious and openly engaged, such a reality wrecks one's ability to imagine a more blissful future, Seemiller said.

"They are a little bit more cautious than the Millennials," Seemiller said. "The Millennials were a more hopeful generation and grew up without a war and with a budget surplus. But not Generation Z." 

The current generation has been witness to numerous school shootings. They are familiar with Sept. 11, 2001 and are acutely aware of international relations. They were there when their parents lost their jobs and when homes foreclosed at record levels.

"They are not cynical and they are not overly optimistic; they are cautious," Seemiller said. "And they are more realistic in terms of their outlook." 

They are Game Changers

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All of this means that in addition to educational institutions, marketers and social media managers must evolve if they are to capture the attention of Generation Z.

Now might be the appropriate time to consider the lives and experiences of this new subculture as Gen Z members begin entering colleges and universities, like the UA.

Colleges and universities who are attentive to this generation should consider the delivery of educational materials and how students are engaged and supported, Seemiller said. The same goes for social networks and marketing.

"Generation Z loves constant feedback – not necessarily about themselves," she said. "But they want information at the touch of the finger." 

This is the generation that can Google just about anything and find an answer from a hugely diversified source base.

Seemiller said: "So if you are having a workshop on the 10 steps of conflict management, why would they come if they can Google '10 steps of conflict management?'"

That does not mean that Gen Z is disinterested; it means they are engaged in a different way.

"Gen Z really relies on its network of relationships and believes that their peers are more influential in their learning," Seemiller said. "They learn by sharing among themselves and believe no one is an expert, but that everyone is the expert because there are a bazillion people with knowledge."

Other articles in this series are:

Contact: Corey Seemiller, director of UA Leadership Programs at or 520-621-8046.


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