Have you wondered when in mid-conversation, or during a presentation, someone drops a generation term, say millennials, or generation Z or even Baby boomers and you try to do a quick mental calculation of the age bracket they are referring to?
You are not alone. I find myself in this same situation, thus the relevance of this post. Pew Research Center has been studying the Millennial generation for more than a decade. But by 2018, it became clear to us that it was time to determine a cutoff point between Millennials and the next generation. Turning 38 this year, the oldest Millennials are well into adulthood, and they first entered adulthood before today’s youngest adults were born.
Anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 23 to 38 in 2019) is considered a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward is part of a new generation. Over the past year, Gen Z has taken hold in popular culture and journalism. Sources ranging from Merriam-Webster and Oxford to the Urban Dictionary now include this name for the generation that follows Millennials, and Google Trends data show that “Generation Z” is far outpacing other names in people’s searches for information. While there is no scientific process for deciding when a name has stuck, the momentum is clearly behind Gen Z.
Of great interest to us is the Generation Z because we target this group with our intervention- comprehensive age-appropriate sex education through technology. It, therefore, calls for a deeper understanding of the dynamics shaping this age group. For analytical purposes, 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.
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. These figures are of Americans, but they might cut across even in the African setting.
Technology, in particular, the rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact is another generation-shaping consideration. Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, and Millennials came of age during the internet explosion. What is unique for Generation Z is that all of the above have been part of their lives from the start. The iPhone launched in 2007 when the oldest Gen Z-ers was 10.
By the time they were in their teens, the primary means by which young people connected with the web was through mobile devices, WiFi and high-bandwidth cellular service. Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment and communication are innovations Millennials adapted to as they came of age. For those born after 1996, these are largely assumed. The implications of growing up in an “always on” technological environment are only now coming into focus.
As a recap, Generation Z are people born between 1997 and 2019 and beyond. Judging from the trend, there will be another generation shaped by socio-economic and political factors in the future.