More Than a Stereotype

Generational theory can provide a fascinating inside into cultural shifts and shared experiences, but they can also fall into the trap of being sensationalistic, overly simplistic and stereotyping. Us millennials have suffered (and, judging by the many articles still being published, are still suffering) from becoming a parody of our experiences. We have been described as an entitled, lazy and narcissistic generation, who expects a participation trophy while apathetically staring at their phones and eating avocado toast.

Despite research showing that this in fact is not the case, the word millennial is still used as a catch-all term for young people, mostly used in an accusatory or critical way, mainly when referring to young people’s (supposedly) tech-obsessed, self-absorbed tendencies. Let’s not forget the many industries, from doorbells to light yogurt, we have collectively managed to kill.

It certainly is a tired narrative.

Here at Grattan Street Press, we have been trying bridge the gap between public perceptions of Millennials and the diversity of reality. Since its establishment, the M Project aimed to ‘combat the stereotypes and give a voice back to a generation coming of age.’ Over the past few years, we have tried to understand and dissect the diverse experiences of this misunderstood and misjudged generation. While this is still our aim, Millennials are no longer ‘coming of age’.

According to the Pew Research centre, Millennials are born between the years 1981–1996, which puts the age range at 24–39. The oldest millennials are approaching middle age and have kids and mortgages, while the youngest ones are doing their Master’s degrees, juggling 3 jobs and contemplating their third career change.

We are no longer entering the workforce or coming into adulthood, we are – for the most part – functioning adults. Millennials today make up almost 30 per cent of the workplace.

There have been articles written about us, research conducted, and surveys completed.

We have fully and truly arrived.

But we still want to know about the experiences of the current youth, those who are just finishing high school, moving out of home, going to university, getting their first jobs.

And the world of research is just beginning on the youngest kids on the block: Gen Z.

Who are Gen Z?

Generation Z. They make up the largest portion of the population globally – 30% of the world’s population and 20% of Australia’s. They are also the most ethnically and racially diverse generation yet and are on track to be the most well-educated. It is expected that 1 in 2 Gen Z will end up with a university degree, compared to just 1 in 3 for Millennials and 1 in 4 in Gen X.

The dates vary between sources but according to Pew Research Centre, Gen Z are defined as those born between the years of 1997-2010, making the oldest members of this generation 23 years old.

They have been dubbed ‘millennials on steroids’, yes, we share a lot of similarities when it comes to key social and political issues. But Gen Z tend to be more politically active, care more about social change and social justice compared to the millennials. They have a more idealistic view of the world compared to the previous generations and their biggest concern is climate change. Gen Zers are also front and centre when it comes to the diversification of gender expression and sexual identity.

Perhaps what comes most surprisingly to a millennial such as myself is that Gen Zs favour financial security, family and stability, and list ‘buying a home’ as one of their primary goals. Compare this to the very millennial aspirations of flexibility, travel and versatility and see if you can spot the difference. Although this might change when more Gen Zs join the workforce and face the reality of house prices.

Let’s talk about technology

Asked in a Vogue survey, Gen Z responders overwhelmingly listed ‘technology’ as the shaping force of their generation. This doesn’t come too much as a surprise, seeing that Gen Z are tech-natives, meaning they have grown up with technology, social media and the internet.

While it is simplistic to say that they are defined just by technology, we cannot ignore that they are unprecedented in the way they engage with media. They are technological integrators and understand the complexity of technological changes.

Their use of social media has certainly influenced the way they communicate, connect and form communities; and their exposure to digital technologies shaped the way they think and learn. Gen Z can process and filter information faster than any other generation. It is also interesting to note that they have a shorter attention span and tend to favour visual media (video is king) to text.

There’s still so much left to learn about Gen Z and their relationship with digital technologies and the potential implications this might have on various industries, such as book publishing, advertisement and retail.

Uncertain futures

Every generation has a defining moment in their coming of age experiences, shaping the generational identity. For a long time, it looked like, unlike us Millennials who joined (or struggled to join) the workforce during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, Gen Zs were on track to step into adulthood filled with opportunities under a stronger economy and low unemployment rates.

This has all changed now as COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our society, economy and what the future might look like. While the long-term implications of COVID-19 are yet to be fully understood, we know that the industries hit the hardest during closures disproportionately affected younger people. In April, people aged 15 to 24 accounted for 36 per cent of job losses, with more than 200,000 young people losing their jobs across the country.

During this time many older Gen Zs, now graduating university, had to live with the reality of cancelled internships and job opportunities. It is likely that this pandemic will be Gen Z’s ‘where were you then’ moment and will shape this generation, impacting everything from how and where they will work, living arrangements, their ability to buy a home and their future.

Unveiling the MZ Project

So, dear Gen Z – the newly renamed MZ Project wants to hear about your journey and your experiences. Tell us about your dreams, your concerns and your failings. We want to know what challenges you and what your hopes are for the future and the planet. And can someone please explain why TikTok is so addictive?

Let’s move away from generational stereotypes and start a discussion about what makes us ‘us’, both individually and collectively. Let’s celebrate our diversity and how we interact with each other and the world around us.

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Looking forward to hearing from you.

Photo by Afta Putta Gunawan from Pexels

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