I know some are still trying to catch up with Busters, or Generation X, or whatever we called those who followed the Boomers. Or maybe you leapfrogged over all that straight to Generation Y (Millennials), on whom marketers have been focused for at least a decade. I could tell you there are actually six living generations in America, but I don’t want to add to your stress.
Let me save you some time: Drop everything and start paying attention to Generation Z, who now constitute 25.9% of the U.S. population. That’s more than Millennials (24.5%). That’s more than Gen X (15.4%). Yes, that’s even more than Baby Boomers (23.6%). By 2020, they will account for 40% of all consumers. Generation Z will not simply influence American culture, as any generation would, they will constitute its culture.
So who falls into Generation Z? There’s still some debate on exact dates, but essentially it involves those who were born after Generation Y - so approximately 1995 to 2010. It is the generation that is now collectively under the age of 25.
Some would argue that everyone born from, say, 1980 to the early 2000s are one giant cohort known as Millennials. It’s true that such a grouping would be unified under a technology revolution, but as the research of Bruce Tulgan notes, “This time frame is simply too broad to define just one generation because the 1990s and the 2000s are two distinct eras.” To lump them together would be to link a 13-year-old with a 35-year-old. And even technologically, that would be hard to embrace. Much of the 90s was pre-internet except for very, very early adopters. And the smart phone? Non-existent. The ubiquitous nature of those two things alone would decisively divide any generation. “Growing up with a supercomputer in your pocket connected to most of the world’s population and knowledge,” writes David Pakman, “has created an irreversible pattern of behavior unlikely to revert to the ways of previous generations.” Or as an article in the New York Times noted, “A 14-year-old in 2015 really does inhabit a substantially different world than one of 2005.”
Intriguingly, some are calling Generation Z the last generation we will ever speak of. The speed of culture, where change can happen in a day, will make speaking of generations and their markings obsolete. “Tomorrow will be less about what a difference a generation makes, but more about what a difference a day makes.” All the more reason to make sure we know about which is probably the last, and arguably which will prove to be the most influential, generation in Western history.
So who is Generation Z? They grew up in a post 9/11 world during a recession. They’ve experienced radical changes in technology and understandings of family, sexuality and gender. They live in multi-generational households, and the fastest growing demographic within their age group is multi-racial. But there are five defining characteristics that everyone should know.
For those five and more, I’ll have to steer you toward my just-released book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World.
But make no mistake: Understanding and reaching this generation is the heart of understanding and reaching our post-Christian world.
James Emery White
James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World (Baker), available now.
Jill Novak, “The Six Living Generations in America,” The Marketing Teacher, read online.
Leonid Bershidsky, “Here Comes Generation Z,” Bloomberg View, June 18, 2014, read online.
Jeremy Finch, “What Is Generation Z, and What Does It Want?”, Fast Company, May 4, 2015, read online.
Bruce Tulgan, “Meet Generation Z: The Second Generation Within the Giant ‘Millennial’ Cohort,” Rainmaker Thinking, 2013, PDF here.
David Pakman, “May I Have Your Attention, Please?,” Medium.com, August 10, 2015, read online.
Alex Williams, “Move Over, Millennials, Here Comes Generation Z,” The New York Times, September 18, 2015, read online.
Sparks and Honey Culture Forecast, “Gen Z 2025: The Final Generation,” 2016, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His new book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.