It might be wise to better understand key differences between Millennials and Generation Z. Though these two generations are often confused for one another, the truth is, they are quite different in many ways.
Pew Research Center’s Michael Dimock recently crafted an eloquently-written piece on key differences between the two generations. Before he delved into the key differences, he expressed why understanding the differences between generations is important.
The importance of understanding generational differences
According to Dimock, Generations provide the opportunity to look at Americans both by their place in the life cycle – whether a young adult, a middle-aged parent or a retiree – and by their membership in a cohort of individuals who were born at a similar time.
As we’ve examined in past work, generational cohorts give researchers a tool to analyze changes in views over time. They can provide a way to understand how different formative experiences (such as world events and technological, economic and social shifts) interact with the life-cycle and aging process to shape people’s views of the world.
Generations, in this context, should not be confused with generations within a family. In many cases, parents and children will have a generation between them. As a Gen X’er, my parents were not Baby Boomers, they were the generation that preceded them, known as the Silent Generation.
Differentiating between Millennials and Generation Z
Pew Research designates 1996 as the line that designates the difference between Millennials and Generation Z. Millennials were born between 1983 and 1996, making them 23-38 years old this year. Only time will tell where the next dividing line will fall, and whether or not the infants and toddlers of today will be part of Generation Z or a yet-to-be-named new generation, but one thing is certain. Anyone aged 22 or less is not a Millennial.
What’s important to remember about generations is that they are not determined by a specific, linear timeline, but more so, by events, attitudes and other generational-forming occurrences that happen. For example, Baby Boomers span a period of 19 years while Millennials and Generation X each spanned 16 years. We simply don’t know yet if Generation Z will include all people who are currently 22 or under, or if the next generation after them has already begun. Only time will tell.
According to Dimock’s article, Pew Research believes 1996 is a meaningful cutoff between Millennials and Gen Z for a number of reasons, including key political, economic and social factors that define the Millennial generation’s formative years. Dimock states, most Millennials were between the ages of 5 and 20 when the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the nation, and many were old enough to comprehend the historical significance of that moment, while most members of Gen Z have little or no memory of the event.
Millennials also grew up in the shadow of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which sharpened broader views of the parties and contributed to the intense political polarization that shapes the current political environment. And most Millennials were between 12 and 27 during the 2008 election, where the force of the youth vote became part of the political conversation and helped elect the first black president. Added to that is the fact that Millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in the nation’s history. Yet the next generation – Generation Z – is even more diverse.
Check out our infographic on how the different generations stack up in the workplace.
Diversity among generations
Another Pew Research article written by Richard Fry and Kim Parker paints a very interesting picture when it comes to diversity among the generations. It shows the steady rise in racial and ethnic minorities by generation. Only 18% of Baby Boomers and 30% of Generation X’ers were racial or ethnic minorities. And, 39% of Millennials. Generation Z is approaching the halfway mark, with 48% of the generation considered an ethnic or racial minority.
Technology and the generations
When you think solely about technology, each specific generation had life-changing advances during their formative years. Baby Boomers watched television go from a luxury for the rich to the masses. Generation X lived through the computer revolution while Millennials grew up as internet became mainstream. Generation Z has had all these things from the time they were born. It’s simply part of their DNA. Being constantly connected, having a phone on them at all times is the equivalent of putting pants on every morning. It’s just a way of life.
How people of the newest generation interact with the world is a byproduct of this constant connectivity. My daughter is a fan of a popular rock band, and created a “fan site” for like- minded people who also enjoyed the band. In a very short period of time, her site had 40,000 followers and she was connecting with people all over the world. While it seems astonishing to this Gen X’er to think about interacting with 40,000 different people, this is the modus operandi for kids of the modern generation.
Only time will tell what the truly defining characteristics of Generation Z will be. We already know that they look to be the most educated, most connected and most diverse generation in history. This generation, as they enter the workforce, will be unlike any of the generations preceding them.
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