Generation-Z are a product of their upbringing
In recent years, we’ve seen increasing chatter about our newly ‘post-demographic’ world. We’ve heard claims that technology – a unifier, a democratizer – has created a society where generations are in fact more similar than they are different.
Yes, defining a generation is more complex than listing off overgeneralised character traits. Yes, we live in a world where younger generations are more complex, nuanced and contradictory than ever before. And yes, access to technology has allowed for greater behavioural consistency across generational lines.
And yet, we’d like to challenge the post-demographic claim: we believe that while our behaviours have become more democratized, our mind sets -- how we view the world -- are still distinctive to the generation we belong.
Those who still believe in generational divides are quick to cite watershed events and moments in history as catalysts. When it comes to America’s Gen Z specifically, we hear they are pragmatists and skilled problem solvers, thanks to formative years as digital natives, growing up at the height of the recession.
To understand a generation – Gen Z in this case – we must look beyond social movements and macro cultural forces. While the recession, the post-9/11 world and the digital era are certainly pieces of the Gen Z puzzle, relying on these factors as the sole causations excludes an integral variable – arguably the most defining factor of Gen Z – their parents. How can we begin to understand who they are if we don’t understand how they were raised and nurtured?
Which is why we propose taking a step back to remind ourselves what defines Gen Z’s parents – the once neglected but now ever-important Gen X.
Gen X was raised during a time of rampant instability. Often referred to as latchkey kids, Gen X childhoods were underscored by high levels of divorce, absent fathers and working mothers – all resulting in what Gen X would likely categorize as neglect. Without parental oversight, they were left to hone their individual identities beyond their parents’ living rooms, ultimately driving the nation’s financial success as they came of age as part of the ’90s workforce.
Years later, as Gen X became mothers and fathers themselves (noting that 13 per cent of Asian kids, 19 per cent of white kids, 29 per cent of Hispanic kids and over half of black kids are now growing up in single parent families), they tended to take on a directly oppositional approach to childrearing with hopes of righting their parents’ wrongs. In effect, Gen X is responsible for the coining of the term ‘helicopter parent.’ Thus begins a culture of over-attentiveness, of highly curated schedules of clarinet, Mandarin and fencing. As they progressed in parenthood, Gen X implicated their children with the same expectations of success that they place on themselves. In an effort to ‘guarantee their children’s success,’ Gen X has brought an abundance of structure into their children’s lives. And with this structure comes the expectation that their children (Gen Z) will follow a structured and sturdy path once they enter into the adult world.
Herein lies the problem for Gen Z.
Expectations are higher than ever. And when expectations are high, so is anxiety. Seventy-nine per cent of Gen Z is worried about getting a job. Seventy-two per cent worry about debt. Seventy per cent are worried about terrorism. The list goes on.
Of course, Gen Z isn’t the only cohort living in today’s tumultuous society, where terrorism feels like a daily occurrence and political unrest is the norm. So then why is Gen Z more anxious than the rest of us?
We believe the answer may lie in our hypothesis:
Only Gen Z was raised in a highly protected environment under the watchful eyes of their Gen X parents. Is it possible, then, that Gen X’s attempts to push their children to succeed have actually set them up for failure?
We suggest that Gen Z feels incredible pressure to succeed not only for themselves, but also for their parents, who gave them so much (and set such high expectations) during their formative years. Whereas millennials have been encouraged to explore, take time to find themselves and extend their adolescence (a product, likely, of growing up with countercultural Boomer moms and dads), Gen Z feels a greater need to know who they are before they’ve even had a chance to figure it out.
Worst of all, while pressure to achieve is at a new high, Gen Z may be poorly armed to take on the challenges that lie ahead. With parents who always took responsibility and overprotected, Gen Z may struggle in taking responsibility for themselves as they come of age. With this weighty pressure to succeed and no clear pathway to success, we see a unique trait of Gen Z emerge: in stark contrast to their millennial counterparts who welcome failure as a necessary part of life’s journey, Gen Z is scared as hell of failure.
Suffice it to say, Gen Z wasn’t born yesterday and they don’t exist in a vacuum. In order to really understand and connect with this generation (or any generation for that matter), we need to look in-depth at who and what has made them who they are today.
It’s with this in-depth knowledge that we can understand Gen Z and their relationships with brands.
And in case we weren’t sure about why Gen Z is so important, let us remind you that Gen Z represents $44B in spending power, and over 70 per cent of Gen Z parents say their kids have an influence on their spending habits.
Some initial questions and hypotheses to consider:
- How does the Gen Z mind set impact its relationships with brands (and ultimately purchase behaviours)?
- If Gen Z fears failure, what can brands do to assuage their fears?
- If Gen Z has higher than high expectations of everyone and everything they interact with, what does that mean for how brands should meet them where they are (…and where are they, exactly)?
- And how much latitude do brands have to make mistakes?