GEN Z Is a Lot Like Their Great-Grands
Alas, it’s the Millennials’ turn to feel old. Gen Z (also called GenEdge) is coming of age.
The oldest Zs turn 22 this year. They are the newest employees and interns in your company and the youngest people who buy what you sell. Zs are the kids in your house, teens at the mall, students in our classrooms, your nieces, nephews, and grandkids.
Here’s the surprise. Gen Z shares generational DNA with their grandparents and great-grands, the Silent generation that came of age in the wake of World War II.
“What?” you ask (or I’ll ask for you.) “How on earth can 21st-century babies, digital natives born with iPhones in their hands, Gen Z or Gen Edge or whatever you call them, possibly have the same generational personality as the hardworking, patriotic sensible, loyal Silent generation?”
Good question. It works like this. If we look at history, we find that generations actually cycle. For example, an intensely passionate generation is always followed by a cynical one, and a cynical gen is always followed by a practical, fix-it gen, and so forth. The latest example of this cycle? Passionate Boomers, skeptical Gen X, and practical Millennials. And now (ta-da!) grounded, pragmatic Gen Z, a predictable throwback to the Silent generation. Granted, Gen Z and Silents appear very different, but if we drill past the surface, similarities emerge.
Not convinced? Well then. Let’s compare.
DON’T ROCK THE BOAT
First, their childhoods were marked by crisis. The Silents came of age in the aftermath of World War II. Gen Z grew up in the wake of 9/11. In fact, the US has been a war for as long as Gen Z (or Edgers) can remember. They’ve experienced economic and environmental crisis. In short, the world seems like a risky place. In response, Gen Z has become, like the Silents before them, risk-adverse. Rates of drinking, drug use and pregnancy are low among Zs. Ask a typical Z what job he or she wants to have, and they’ll ask you what jobs are in demand. They tend to play it safe. That’s very like the Silent gen. In fact, Time magazine gave Silents their name because they played it safe, keeping their heads down and not speaking out about issues like McCarthyism and civil rights.
A PENNY SAVED . . .
Silents were shaped by the Great Depression when millions of Americans lost their jobs. Gen Z has been shaped by the Great Recession, a less severe but much longer period of joblessness when millions lost their livelihood. Edgers watched unemployed older sibs (Millennials) move back home. They learned about tight family budgets early, and they became notorious savers. Marketers complain that Gen Z browses without buying, and parents report that when Edgers ask for things, they often pitch their request with a discount, coupon or a sale price. Great-grandmother would be proud.
Family units were valued and strong when Silents came of age. Now they are strong again. We simply cycled through a couple of generations of weakened family life in between.
For Boomers, putting work first was the norm. Working the weekend or moving across the country to advance one’s career was a no-brainer. Translation? Weakening family units. Families weakened further while Gen X was growing up. Known as latch-key kids, Gen Xers saw their parents' divorce rates triple. The tide turned and family life strengthened with Millennials. Helicopter parents (Boomers) were protective, and Millennials stayed close . With Gen Z, we come full circle. Yes, families look different than they did for Silents (The Waltons vs Modern Family), but it’s cool to be tight with Mom and Dad again.
HAND ME THAT CIRCUIT BOARD, WILL YOU?
Gen Z and Silents both value making stuff. Like their great-grands, Zs garden, bake and build. Gen Zs tinker like their grands did, only they call it hacking, and it’s part of the DIY or Maker Movement.
This makes them resourceful, a word we also used for the Silents. Parents report that Gen Z kids solve problems themselves rather than asking for help. Employers have noticed, too. They say Millennials sought mentors, but Gen Z is more about helping themselves.
THE GLASS IS HALF FULL AGAIN
Finally, there's optimism. The future looked bright to Silents. They’d seen depression and war, and had come through it. We’re already seeing that same resiliency in Gen Z, a lack of cynicism and a hopefulness whose time has come again.