Over the past several years, educators, employers, researchers, retailers, and the like have spent significant time and resources dissecting the Millennial mindset. But the time has come to shift focus. The members of America’s youngest generation, “Gen-Z,” are now entering their formative years, and they promise to be just as—if not more—influential as their Millennial predecessors. Below, we explore who they are and what makes them unique.
Using Pew Research’s generational delineation, the oldest Gen-Zers were born in 1998, making them 18 years old today and on the cusp of entering either college or the workforce. With a total population of over 70 million, this generation will soon surpass Millennials in size, and their influence is already evident. Stakeholders across the spectrum are embarking on the process of understanding this up-and-coming generation.
Goldman Sachs Research’s Christopher Wolf explains the social and economic implications of Gen-Z.
It is clear that diversity will be one of the defining attributes of Gen-Z. In the past decade alone, the rise of multiracial marriages in the U.S. has led to a 50% increase in America’s multiracial youth demographic. According to Christopher Wolf, a Goldman Sachs Research analyst, “the Census Bureau is actually forecasting that over half of kids in America will belong to a minority race or ethnic group [by 2020], so diversity in the traditional sense of the word has actually become the norm.”
And this diversity transcends race, gender, and sexual orientation. Take fashion, for example, where “normcore” has emerged as one of the prominent style trends. This style—bland, boring, basic, and, in most cases, absent of brand logos—leans more toward blending in than standing out. And for Gen-Zers, not relying on a designer brand’s latest fashion trends to establish their identities is exactly the point. This presents a new challenge for retailers should the trend hold.
Never before has there been a generation incapable of remembering a world without the Internet. “A defining attribute of Gen-Z is absolutely their digital prowess,” Wolf says. “Whenever we refer to the influence of Gen-Z, technology is really a fundamental part of that narrative.” Unlike their Millennial predecessors, Gen-Zers appear more conscious of protecting their reputations online. As members of this generation mature, their views and preferences on social media are evolving, and no platform is insulated from that reality.
In terms of spending habits, this cohort is accustomed to online shopping. Their ability to navigate online, coupled with a thrifty mindset, has created an army of deal hunters for whom online word-of-mouth matters greatly.
When it comes to money and finances, Gen-Zers and Millennials hardly resemble one another. While Millennials are often cast as the “follow your dreams at all costs” generation, Gen-Zers are “really laser-focused on the financial consequences of their decisions,” according to Wolf. Members of Gen-Z are also entrepreneurial. A recent Harvard Business Review article suggested that nearly 70% of Gen-Z teens were “self-employed” (e.g., teaching piano lessons, selling goods on eBay) versus just 12% that held a “traditional” teen job like waiting tables. This ability and ingenuity to turn coveted skillsets into earnings power will likely serve Gen-Zers well as they enter the labor force.
“We are on the verge of a generational shift with Gen-Z,” Wolf says. “By better understanding Gen-Z, we’ll also be better able to identify the influence that they’re having both economically and more broadly.”
Beyond the generational shift
This article is part of Goldman Sachs Research’s “What If I Told You…” series, which explores emerging trends that are poised to fundamentally change how we live and work.
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