What to know about Gen Z (2024)

Generation Z – also known as Gen Z, iGen or postmillennial – are a highly collaborative cohort that cares deeply about others and have a pragmatic attitude about how to address a set of inherited issues like climate change, according to research by Roberta Katz, a senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS).

Roberta Katz (Image credit: Charles Katz)

Since 2017, Katz, along with her co-authors, Sarah Ogilvie, a linguist at the University of Oxford and formerly at Stanford; Jane Shaw, a historian who is the principal of Harris Manchester College at Oxford and was previously dean for Religious Life at Stanford; and Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at King’s College London, collaborated as part of a multi-year CASBS research project to better understand a generation who, born between the mid-1990s to around 2010, grew up with digital tools always at their fingertips.

Their findings are based on some 120 interviews gathered on three college campuses – Stanford University; Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos Hills, California; and Lancaster University, a research university in Lancaster, England. A set of focus groups and two surveys in the U.S. and the U.K. were administered to a representative sample of over 2,000 adults aged between 18 and 25 years old.

Contributing further to the scholar’s understanding of Gen Z was the creation of the “iGen corpus,” a 70 million item digital repository of spoken and written language of people aged 16 to 25 years that included transcripts from the researchers’ interviews and focus groups, as well as public data from the social media platforms Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, 4chan and YouTube, as well as memes and copypastas from Facebook and Instagram. Ogilvie, the principal investigator on the corpus research team, along with a team of Stanford student research assistants, applied machine learning algorithms to discover the many ways in which young people today express themselves.

Taken together, the scholars’ research offers a snapshot of who Gen Zers really are, what matters to them and why. Findings from Katz’s and her co-authors’ research are detailed in a new book, Gen Z, Explained: The Art of Living in a Digital Age (University of Chicago Press, 2021).

Here, Katz discusses some of what she and her colleagues learned from their extensive research into how Gen Zers, the most diverse generation yet, experience and understand the world.

Based on your research, can you briefly describe the typical Gen Zer?

In summary, a typical Gen Zer is a self-driver who deeply cares about others, strives for a diverse community, is highly collaborative and social, values flexibility, relevance, authenticity and non-hierarchical leadership, and, while dismayed about inherited issues like climate change, has a pragmatic attitude about the work that has to be done to address those issues.

How has growing up in an internet-connected society shaped how Gen Zers see and experience the world and everyday life?

Internet-related technologies have dramatically changed the speed, scale and scope of human communications, resulting in significant changes in how people work, play, shop, find friends and learn about other people. For Gen Zers living in the United States and Britain (the two places we studied), the “norm” they experienced as children was a world that operated at speed, scale and scope. They developed an early facility with powerful digital tools that allowed them to be self-reliant as well as collaborative. Similarly, because they could learn about people and cultures around the globe from an early age, they developed a greater appreciation for diversity and the importance of finding their own unique identities.

What do people most misunderstand or get wrong about Gen Zers?

For quite a while, people were critical of what they saw as a generation that was too coddled and “soft.” Gen Zers were called “snowflakes” and “unwilling to grow up.” But much of that negative judgment came from a misunderstanding of what it is like to grow up in today’s world when compared with how their elders grew up. As an example, Gen Zers have been criticized as lazy because they don’t have after-school or summer jobs. But many Gen Zers have been earning significant dollars online through a variety of activities, even including product placements on fashion-advice sites. Another example concerns drivers’ licenses: older people, for whom getting a driver’s license was a rite of passage toward adulthood, have criticized Gen Zers who do not rush to take their driver’s tests when they turn 16, but this criticism fails to consider that Gen Zers have no need to drive when they have ready access to ride services like Uber and Lyft.

Do you think Gen Zers get an undeserved bad rap?

Yes, but that is changing. Of late, many people are beginning to appreciate the strength and pragmatism of Gen Zers.

What were you most surprised to learn about Gen Zers?

Our biggest surprise came in response to this interview question: “What type of communication do you like best?” We expected the interviewees to respond with their favorite type of digital communication – e.g., text, email, chat group, DM, FaceTime, Skype, etc. – but instead nearly every single person said their favorite form of communication was “in person.”

As Gen Zers enter the workforce, what would be helpful for other generations to know about their post-millennial colleagues?

For those who are now experiencing Gen Zers in the workplace, my advice is to recognize that these new colleagues are used to working collaboratively and flexibly, with an eye to being efficient in getting the job done. They are pragmatic and value direct communication, authenticity and relevance. They also value self-care. They may be more likely than older people were when they were the age of the Gen Zers to question rules and authority because they are so used to finding what they need on their own. They are not always right; often they don’t know what they need, especially in a new setting, and this is where inter-generational dialogue can be so helpful. Both the older and the younger colleagues can learn from the other, in each case by listening with more respect, appreciation and trust. The older colleague can learn some helpful new ways of getting a job done, while the younger colleague may learn good reasons for why things have long been done in a certain way. Without that dialogue, we’ll have a wasteful tug of war between the past and the future. The goal is for older and younger generations to work together, with openness and trust, to ensure that the wisdom – but not what has become the excess baggage – of the past is not lost to the future.

How has studying Gen Zers changed your own interactions with this generation?

I came to understand that Gen Zers are, on the whole, much better adapted to life in a digital age than those of us who are older and that they can be very frustrated by what appear to them to be outdated and often irrelevant ways of doing things. As one simple example that we cite in the book, an older person would likely assume that any organization needs a set of officers, for that has been the norm in their experience, but a Gen Zer would say, from their lived experience, that there is no need to elect officers (or other leaders) if the group can accomplish its mission through online collaborations that take advantage of the participants’ diverse skills.

In my own interactions with Gen Zers, I am much more likely than I used to be to listen closely to what they say, and to refrain from making a judgment about their ideas, values and behaviors based on an assumption that they are wrong and I am right. They often do things differently, have some different values and have some different ideas about the future than I do, and I have come to appreciate and trust that they often have a new and better approach. Many of us who are older have a different understanding of how the world works, which is rooted in our own early experiences, so it’s easy for us to assume that the world will continue to operate in much the same way going forward and that the young people need to adapt to that older way of living. But the younger people are necessarily future-oriented, and as we all are increasingly coming to appreciate, the digital-age future is quite different from the industrial-age past.

For 13 years, Katz served under Stanford University Presidents John Hennessy and Marc Tessier-Lavigne as the associate vice president for strategic planning. She also served as President Tessier-Lavigne’s interim chief of staff until early 2017. Katz has been deeply involved in the facilitation of a variety of interdisciplinary research initiatives at Stanford, and she is a current member of the CASBS board of directors.

This research was funded by the Knight Foundation.

What to know about Gen Z (2024)

FAQs

What to know about Gen Z? ›

As the first real digital natives, Gen Zers—speaking generally—are extremely online. Gen Zers are known for working, shopping, dating, and making friends online; in Asia, Gen Zers spend six or more hours per day on their phones.

What are Gen Z generation known for? ›

As the first real digital natives, Gen Zers—speaking generally—are extremely online. Gen Zers are known for working, shopping, dating, and making friends online; in Asia, Gen Zers spend six or more hours per day on their phones.

What are the big facts about Gen Z? ›

Generation Z Demographics
  • There are approximately 69.31 million Gen Zs living in the United States (US Census) ...
  • Gen Z is only marginally majority white in the US (US census) ...
  • Gen Z is on the fence about higher education (Gallup) ...
  • 48% of Gen Zs have entered the workforce (GWI)
Jun 28, 2024

What do you need to know about Generation Z? ›

Generation Z – also known as Gen Z, iGen or postmillennial – are a highly collaborative cohort that cares deeply about others and have a pragmatic attitude about how to address a set of inherited issues like climate change, according to research by Roberta Katz, a senior research scholar at Stanford's Center for ...

What is Gen Z behavior? ›

They're generally more financially pragmatic than millennials, and they tend to be more risk averse. However, one thing they do have in common with millennials is a strong belief in social causes and corporate responsibility. This is in striking contrast to Gen Xers.

What does Gen Z care about most? ›

Gen Z: Born between 1997 and 2012. A socially conscious generation that prioritizes mental health, sustainability, and racial equity, while shaping consumer habits with a tech-savvy approach.

What do Gen Z like to do for fun? ›

Plus, when Gen Zers do actually have fun, it tends to lean towards more wholesome activities, like house parties (sometimes even themes house parties) and crocheting. Lots and lots crocheting apparently. Grocery stores are the new clubs. Love that self care is considered entertainment these days.

What are the negatives of Gen Z? ›

Gen Z tends to favor digital communication platforms, such as instant messaging and social media, which can differ from traditional workplace communication methods. This can create a disconnect and miscommunication between older generations and colleagues who prefer more face-to-face or phone interactions.

Is Gen Z aging faster? ›

April 18, 2024 – The explosive rise in skin care “influencers” hawking product after product on social media has led many young people to seek anti-aging products and procedures even as experts say there is no actual evidence that Gen Z is aging faster than normal.

What does z in Gen Z stand for? ›

Then came Millennial, and after that was Generation Z, or Gen Z. Gen Z refers to people born between 1995 and 2010. The 'Z' in the name means "zoomer", as this is the first generation known to 'zoom' the internet. Most of those who are a part of Gen Z are the children of Generation X.

What do Gen Z want in life? ›

Gen Z cares about mental health and work-life balance

Having a work-life balance and maintaining mental and physical health is also important to Gen Z. “They're placing a value on the human experience and recognizing that life is more than work,” Katz said.

What does Gen Z teach us? ›

Gen Z is all about shattering barriers and embracing diversity. We grasp the significance of an open mind and relish welcoming diverse perspectives. Let's persist in fostering inclusivity and mutual learning, fashioning a world where everyone feels not just acknowledged but genuinely valued.

What are Gen Z looking for? ›

Flexibility & benefits

Things such as paid time off, activities, and mental health days are essential for Generation Z. When attracting Gen Zers, you need to consider what encourages healthy lifestyles, wellbeing, and going beyond traditional benefits.

What is Gen Z obsessed with? ›

Gen Z and millennials are obsessed with the idea of being rich, and it could be leading to money dysmorphia. In late 2023, a new trend emerged online and across social media where people began questioning how well they were doing financially.

What struggles do Gen Z face? ›

Mental Health Challenges: Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Generation Z is grappling with stress levels that surpass those of previous generations. One undeniable catalyst for the surge in stress among Generation Z is the relentless academic pressure they endure.

What are Gen Z beliefs? ›

Generation Zers tend to lean on their moral compass with a strong inclination to stand up for what's right. They prioritize critical issues such as healthcare, mental health, education, financial stability, civic engagement, racial equality, inclusion, and environmental conservation.

What is the Generation Z also known as? ›

Other proposed names for the generation included iGeneration, Homeland Generation, Net Gen, Digital Natives, Neo-Digital Natives, Pluralist Generation, Internet Generation, Centennials, and Post-Millennials. While there is no scientific process for deciding when a name has stuck, the momentum is clearly behind Gen Z.

What did Gen Z stand for? ›

Generation Z (Gen Z) refers to the generation of Americans born from 1997 to 2012. The oldest members of Gen Z are starting their post-education years, with new careers and, possibly, families; the youngest are 12.

Why does Gen Z want to be famous? ›

Young people are savvy to the ease of making money on their own time and doing something fun, Briggs says. The No. 1 thing driving Gen Z's interest in influencing as a career is the ability to make money, followed closely by being able to work flexibly and doing fun work.

What is the difference between Gen Z and Millennials? ›

A Millennial is anyone born between 1980 and 1995. In the U.S., there are roughly 80 million Millennials. A member of Gen Z is anyone born between 1996 and the early-mid 2000s (end date can vary depending on source). In the U.S., there are approximately 90 million members of Gen Z, or “Gen Zers.”

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