Millennials are known for using social media to share their world with the world, often an idealized version of their actual life, choosing their real-life experiences based on social share-worthiness. The popular millennial catchphrase "Insta or it didn’t happen” illustrates the importance placed on sharing through social media. As teens and young adults, millennials drove this attitude, and others adopted it, including Gen Xers and baby boomers. Millennials set the standard for what was acceptable, expected and cool and the rest of us followed.
Our research suggests that Gen Z is establishing a new norm for social media use right under our noses, resetting the standard all generations will adopt. Increasingly, Gen Z is using social media as a communication tool — a way to stay connected with the people and things that are important to them. Our research shows that the vast majority of Gen Z (80%) use social media to connect with friends and family, while only 22% use it to share their opinions or influence broader audiences.
Social media is becoming to Gen Z what email, phones, fax, “snail mail” or even telegrams were to prior generations: the way to stay in touch and build connections. With Gen Z’s changing behavior, we can expect to see changes in others — and ourselves — to come.
Political contradiction: defying expectations of “typical” youth
In terms of politics, Gen Z is interested in the bigger picture and where they fit in it. Politically, Gen Z, even in their youth, more typically reflect broader America in their views than previous generations. Our research revealed that they actually span the range of the political spectrum, with 39% identifying as moderate, 28% as liberal or very liberal, 25% identifying as conservative or very conservative, and 8% identifying as other. Politics isn’t top of mind though: only 20% indicated that they were “very or extremely interested” in political issues, vs. 39% being “very or extremely interested” in environmental issues. For Gen Z, social causes and political affiliations don’t align as neatly as they have with past generation. And while Gen Z may have little interest in political issues, the majority indicated that they intend to vote in the next election (74% of 17- to-22-year-olds and 81% of 12- to-16-year-olds intend to vote in first election after turning 18). Gen Z’s views on how to solve the world’s problems also conflicts with millennials.
Values contradiction: balancing global hopes for a better world with personal goals and achievements
While Gen Z take a broad view of the world and seriously consider their role in making it a better place, they have to balance that with their own pragmatic concerns about the ability to get a good job and support themselves. While they are often thought of as idealists or dreamers about what can be, our research revealed that their top concerns and priorities are both global and “local” in nature. When asked what caused them stress, a majority of Gen Z felt “very or extremely” worried about the future — specifically their own, including having enough money (67%), getting a good or better job (64%) and paying for college or university (59%), as well as citing global worries like gun violence (62%) and climate change (61%). However, when global concerns conflict with preparing for their future, most of Gen Z pragmatically prioritizes the latter.
This further conflicts with millennials. Millennials really ramped up the discussion about sustainability, social responsibility and purpose — but often looked to brands and companies for the solutions. While “buy one, give one” models and sustainable products were enough to meet millennials’ expectations, Gen Z is calling out companies on specific business policies and practices. Gen Z’s expectation is that companies and brands will go beyond marketing to truly measurable differences. This pragmatic approach comes through in their own personal concerns as well.
Gen Z is diverse and contradictory as the society in which they’ve been raised
More than any other generation in modern history, Gen Z has come of age in a time of increasing polarization and fragmentation, and the diversity of their generation reflects this. As a result, it is impossible to apply a single label to them. In fact, we have identified five different lenses through which Gen Z should be viewed and understood:
- “Stressed Strivers”
- “Big Plans, Low Energy”
- “Authentic Activists”
- “Carefree Constituents”
- “Secluded Perfectionists”
1. “Stressed Strivers”
As the largest cohort, “Stressed Strivers” represent 35% of all of Gen Z. Stressed Strivers are entrepreneurial, independent and future-focused, sometimes to the point of causing them stress. Stress Strivers live among the Fortune’s 18 Under 18 and are well-represented by YouTube Entrepreneurs , as well as your “average” high school valedictorian.
Stressed Strivers care less about wanting to enjoy their work and more about achieving success and feeling respected. They place importance on spending time on things that will help them in the future, believe in being independent and figuring things out on their own and favor earning what they get rather than having it handed to them. They are also keenly interested in environmental issues.
Stressed Strivers tend to have higher-income parents, with half saying they have “helicopter parents” who are constantly hovering over them and pushing them to be their best.