A Generational Perspective

I am not a Millennial. I am 18 years old and was born in 1998. Although I am right on the edge of the two generations, Millennials and Generation Z, I much more closely relate to and share the ideals of my younger companions rather than my older cohorts. As teenagers my age are some of the first of Gen Z to be coming of age and entering college and the workforce, many companies are curious about what drives decision making of my generation. We are different from our counterparts, the Millennials, and have rather polar views of the world.

Generation Z, at least in my case, tends to be more grounded and realistic. Now don’t get me wrong, having dreams and goals is great to have in this world and most of us do. We are hopeful for the world and dream we can make a difference in it. After living through and experiencing the effects of the Great Recession, Gen Z has realized the importance of independence and making decisions that are right for themselves. Especially now, I believe as we are heading off to college and beginning careers, we really yearn for independence. I have known other teens having already moved out at 17. This aspect of freedom and independence, although terrifying as it may seem, drives and motivates many of my Generation Z companions.

Another strong influence and ideal that bonds Generation Z is the idea of saving. We have heard throughout our lives that it is impossible to save money anymore. After living through the Great Recession of 2008 however, kids of my age experienced the difference saving can make in one’s life. Although saving for a crisis is very important, we have also learned that saving money for our future comfort is essential. With the collapse of the Social Security system said to be immanent when we enter our 60s, Generation Z has obtained a frugality similar to that of our grandparents. No more can we depend on the government for our financial security. We have learned that we must rely on our own independence and ability to save in to ensure our own financial comfort in our later years.

Now marketers, advertisers, and businesses need to take note of this knowledge, or assumed knowledge, Generation Z has. When looking for colleges, jobs, and investments, the majority of my generation considers the price first. If the price isn’t right, most of us aren’t willing to go into debt to afford it. We all dream of expensive cars and name brand clothing, but are willing to settle for a less to save a few bucks; if quality is at risk however this will not be the case. The same goes for selecting a career path and degree. I myself love languages and would happily major in some unique foreign language, but language majors have very limited applications to job fields. Sure it’s always a plus to speak Spanish or Chinese, but that’s all it ever will be, a plus. So like myself, much of Generation Z is selecting degrees and career paths that offer higher salaries and expansive opportunities. We can pursue our passions as hobbies in life anyways. After cost and salary, location is the next most influential factor on our decisions.

For some reason, kids my age, myself included, have a fascination with the world and travel. I’m certain we are not the first generation with these dreams and as far as I know it comes with being a teenager. Right now however, travel and “getting away” are major priorities on our agendas. We realize we can’t afford to now, but so many of the younger Millennials and older Gen Z’ers are able to through social media platforms like YouTube and Instagram. These social media stars are living the dream of most my age. Making a decent living off of amateur videos or travel photos is almost unheard of. I mean wow. For previous generation, making a living off of travel was a pipe dream made for popular magazine and news journalists; even they had to come back “home” at some point to actually write about their work. With these Instagram stars though, they just travel and post photos through their phone or laptop during a constant vacation. These are the stars and idols that massively influence the choices my generation makes. We strive to have the lives they do. Most of us realize that few are still able to obtain that life as quickly as they do, so we use plan B. Go to college, get a degree, begin a well-paying career, and THEN follow our dreams. Now some older people might say “NO! Follow your dreams now while you still can! Love your work and you won’t work a day in your life!” And for those retired millionaires that’s easy to say. Of course we would love to have that lifestyle, but in reality who’s going to pay for it? International planes tickets cost upward around $1000, hotels start at $50 a night, and transportation varies but adds up very quickly. You need a great job to live a life of travel, but then you’d also need time to work and relax at the same time. Most importantly, who is going to secure our retirement? All in all, a YOLO lifestyle, to quote an outdated and obnoxious phrase, is not practical. Generation Z would much rather vacation with money in retirement, than travel with pennies now with hopes the Government will still be able to care for us when we are riddled with ailments. Am I a bit pessimistic? Maybe. But I like to think of myself as an optimistic realist; hopeful for a great and adventurous life, but always grounded and never expecting things or experiences to add purpose or fulfillment to my life.

Speaking of purpose and fulfillment, the third most influential aspect of Generation Z is societal and environmental impact. This may seem specific compared to cost and location, but it is by far one of the most important. Gen Z has lived watching countless environmental tragedies and societal breakthroughs which sadden and inspire us. We strive to undo the mistakes of the past and not dump our problems on our children as previous generations have done to us. Almost every one of us strives to create social equality, but not to be confused with communistic equality. Volunteering and “causes” are HUGE in our life and most don’t hesitate to volunteer. I have many friends who want to set up their own charities in which they take high salaries as many Charity CEOs do today. Generation Z doesn’t want to be the greedy generation. We want to actually help people without alternative motives or huge checks.

Who knows though. This all may be ignorant hope in our transition to adulthood, but maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s determination not to rely on the Government for a stable future, not to rely on our children to take care of the earth, and not to rely on others to make our dreams come true. But just maybe.

-B Delamater