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Definition

Generation Z

Generation Z is the demographic cohort following Generation Y -- which is more popularly known as the Millennial Generation. The dates given for Generation Z range from the mid-1990s through the second decade of this century, although precise years vary according to the source. Entry-level employees in many industries today belong to Gen Z.

Like the Millennial generation, Generation Z is comfortable with new technologies because they have grown up in an Internet-connected learning environment from birth. Many younger members of the cohort played with computer tablets when they were toddlers and do not remember a world without smart phones. As of 2015, 77 percent aged 12-to-17 in the United States owned an Apple or Android cell phone. Not surprisingly, texting is the cohort’s preferred communication mode, followed by social media interaction.

At over two billion individuals, Generation Z is the most populous generational cohort of all time and retailers are finding it challenging to capture their increasing spending power. Much of the trouble retailers are experiencing has to do with keeping pace with the rate at which new social media habits are emerging and affecting how this generation shops. Older Gen Z members are willing to give vendors personal information, but they expect transparency for how that information will be used. 

Other characteristics of Generation Z as a cohort within the U.S., in contrast with earlier generations:

  • Less traditional (nuclear) family backgrounds, more single-parent, same-sex parent and blended families.
  • More likely to have friends from various ethnic, religious and racial groups.
  • More adverse to risk than Millennials or Baby Boomers.
  • Less confident in the current economic system.
  • More inclined to become a small business owner.
  • More religious.
  • More likely to spend as much time online as offline. 
  • More likely to watch entertainment over a phone than a television.
  • More likely to shop online than any other generation.

In the workplace, Generation Z expects greater flexibility and the capacity to work remotely, collaboratively and seamlessly across various computing devices. Making a meaningful contribution to the world is also important to the cohort. Gen Z individuals expect to have their input welcomed and respected, and are less tolerant of authoritarian environments such as a hierarchical corporate culture.

Generation X was named to represent an unknown factor, and Y and Z were selected as the letters following X. other names suggested for the cohort include iGeneration (iGen), Zoomers (a play on Baby Boomers) and Digital Natives.

Watch Thomas Koulopoulos' presentation on Gen Z where he predicts the future of behavior and technology:

This was last updated in January 2020

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