March 26, 2020
Who is Gen Z?
What you should know about the Gen Z-eitgeist
Also known as Plurals, Zoomers, Gen Tech, and iGen — Generation Z are the tweens, teens, and young adults born roughly between 1995-2013 and will officially outnumber Millennials in 2020.
In recent years you may have noticed this demographic becoming an increasingly forceful global audience and agent of change around the world. They’ve mobilized effectively around environmental issues. They’ve been loud voices for social justice. Their approach to self-expression and communication is increasingly relevant to today’s shifts in technology and popular culture. They have shaken up old gender norms to create more space for equality and diversity. And not least, they now account for almost one-third of the world’s 7.7 billion people.
Gen Z came of age in an era of rapidly changing social conditions brought about by social media and the internet. This access to vast amounts of information has created a youth culture that is more inclusive and global in their thinking, interactions, and relatability than other generations might have been in their younger years. With the oldest members of this group now aging into their twenties, graduating from college, and entering the workforce; they’re also becoming an important sector of the economy, driving new cultural trends and consumer habits. So, who is Gen Z?
As a recent Pew Research Center report highlighted, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the history of the United States—which as you know is Stocksy’s biggest market. 48% of this age group or one-fifth of the country’s entire population are from racial and ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, only 18% of assets in our collection including a “teen” or “tween” model feature an ethnicity other than caucasian.
As traditional expectations of masculinity and femininity have changed shape in recent decades, so too have gender norms and attitudes. Gen Z has given rise to gender-neutral fashion, policies, and practices by rejecting long-engendered stereotypes and binaries. On the subject of gender conformity, a recent Pew Research Survey found that more than a third of Gen Z participants knew someone who used a gender-neutral pronoun. Gen Z is also more inclusive and accepting of different body-types, beauty ideals, and abilities. An interesting read into how Gen Z is redefining “sexy,” – embracing attainable body sizes, acne, pubic hair, baggy clothes, etc. – can be read in this recent article in Australian Vogue.
Gen Z may well be the most visually and culturally literate generation ever; throughout their lives they’ve had access to an unprecedented wealth of information and stimulus, and have grown up sharing articulating their thoughts on social media and curating their identity through online profiles. They’ve also got creative tools at their fingertips, navigating different media with ease, and in the process, moving past long-held rules, conventions and formalities.
These digital natives have never had to navigate a world without Google Maps, have never had their encyclopedia on a CD Rom…much less their parent’s bookshelf. Even Facebook is a social relic for Gen Z, who grew up as digital natives using apps tablets and smartphones. Unlike Millennials, they have no experience of a pre-digital world. For better or worse, social media plays a dominant role in Gen Z’s lives, along with all its social symptoms and side effects such as cyber bullying, digital dependance, and depression.
Fed up with inaction and ambivalence, Gen Z have been taking matters into their own hands, taking and demanding action on entrenched political issues such as gun control and climate change. They view the current global political status quo as a joke and aren’t afraid to call out “Boomers” on their BS. Sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, recently named TIME magazine’s person of the year, is a symbol of this generation’s wisdom and resolve.
Coming of age in a time of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, Gen Z is highly alert to the different forms of discrimination, structural inequality, and social injustice that exist in society. Actively attentive to important issues, they are radically more inclusive, disruptive, and socially aware than teenagers of the past.
As you might get by now, Gen Z is seriously concerned with social and environmental causes. While conscious consumerism (fairtrade, ethically sourced, recycled, zero-waste, eco-conscious options) might have been superficially subscribed to by older generations, for this generation they are native and expected. Gen Z buyers actively and often exclusively choose brands that align with their principles. 90% of Generation Z consumers believe companies have a corporate social responsibility. Brands have taken note, increasingly taking a stance on social, political, and environmental issues. When it comes to skincare and wellbeing, Generation Z spends more dollars on beauty products than apparel, according to a 2018 report, and they lean towards holistic and gender-inclusive brands.
Realist & Self-Reliant
Today’s youth largely reject the type of simple narratives and homogenized ideals that gloss over real-world realities. They are more aware of and interested in exploring the layered and often muddy reality of sexuality, identity politics, family dynamics, and the human experience. They are also pragmatic in their approach to economic reality, recognizing the unsustainability of late-market capitalism, growing income disparity, and economic dependence on fossil fuel extraction and consumption.
This generation won’t even dream of a pension. While Millennials have been characterized as idealistic and driven by markers of success, selfhood, and creativity; Gen Z is about innovation, equality, action, and self-reliance. For a deep dive into what exactly this means for retailers, marketers, and strategists, take a look at Ernst & Young and the World Economic Forum’s report on the generational divide.
So, in a nutshell — tween, teen, and young adult life in 2020 looks radically different from how it did a decade or even five years ago. As Gen Z matures they will shape a radically more engaged, connected, and informed consumer landscape. Personal growth and individual status will not be key motivators. Long-held gender stereotypes and power-structures will continue to break down. Diversity will increase. Ideas about beauty and its importance will change — in their hands, the 21st century is about to take shape.
With respect to current shoot limitations, here are some ideas for evergreen yet timely content related to Gen Z and the reality of COVID-19
- Self-care & wellness
- Emotional expression
- Engaging in creative and personal projects
- Homework, working from home, online classes
- Applying to jobs, schools, working on resumés
- Socializing from home via the phone, video, apps
- Home Entertainment: puzzles, reading, streaming media
- Helping others in the community, online activism
- Physical activity at home
- Helping with cooking, gardening, and household chores
- Inclusion of Gen Z in cross-generational groups of friends and family
- Inclusion of Gen Z and cross-cultural groups of friends and family
- Inclusion of Gen Z in multigenerational families
Image credits: Gobsmack Productions/Stefan Plug; Keli Anne; Nicolò De March; Nikki Krecicki;
Yuko Kotuse; Noto Botanics; Isabela Ross/VSCO; Andrew Fox/The Guardian; HuckMag ℅ Outward bound trust; Tom Saison; Erewil Ferreira; Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images; RJ Shaughnessy; Ed Jones/Getty Images; Roy James Shakespeare/Getty Images; Guardian News/Tom Mustill; Sophia Alloggiamento; Artofoverwhelm; ThirdLove; Deciem; Joao Canziani; (left, right) RJ Shaughnessy; Brandon Yam; Kyle Derscheid AcneStudios