You probably know all about millennials. They’ve undergone more scrutiny than the Kardashians. But you haven’t heard nearly as much about the generation right after millennials, my generation; Gen Z.
Roughly defined as those currently aged seven to 22, we’re nearing the age when we can make a significant impact on the world. Some of us — like the school shooting survivors who created March for Our Lives — already have.
This year, we’re set to pass millennials as the world’s most populated generation, so we’ll be making an even bigger impact in the near future. Here’s an introduction to my generation, how we’re different, and how we’ll change the world.
We’re learning a great deal from previous generations.
Gen Z has seen a lot. We witnessed the 2008 financial crisis first hand. Many, saw our parents lose jobs, savings and homes. What’s more, we’ve seen millennials excitedly choose their dream schools and majors, only to have their plans crushed by massive student debt.
We’ve seen what happens when disaster strikes and you don’t have enough money saved, or when you’re too happy-go-lucky chasing your dreams. Luckily, we’ve been taking notes and we’re demonstrating what we’ve learned by being extraordinarily practical with our money and our education.
Indeed, 35% of us plan to start saving for retirement in our 20s, and another 10% are planning to save as teens. We choose college majors based on future job availability, and only 11% of us say we’d take on student debt to pay for college.
In the future, expect our generation to have less student debt and more money saved at an earlier age than previous generations. And with 75% of us saying college isn’t the only path to a good education, our generation will find more ways to learn and succeed.
We’re changing what it means to achieve the American dream.
In America, it is said, success comes from working hard and making the right decisions. Gen Z doesn’t disagree. But we do have a different definition of success than other generations. We don’t want to join a faceless company and climb the corporate ladder for 40 years; 41% of us plan to start our own businesses. Luckily, we grew up with the internet, which makes starting a new company easier than ever.
If we’re not already running a business, we’re freelancing. A full 46% of Gen Z are freelancers, and more of us are choosing to do so than any other generation. And we’re not waiting until we graduate. Twelve-year-old Yuma Soerianto already has 10 apps on the Apple App Store and runs a YouTube channel where he teaches coding to 10,000 subscribers.
YouTube makes the internet even more conducive to entrepreneurship and freelancing, and not just by allowing entrepreneurs like Soerianto an avenue to grow an audience. It also allows newcomers the opportunity to become stars on our version of TV — and get rich and famous in the process.
In fact, the highest-paid YouTuber in the world is 7-year-old toy reviewer Ryan Kaji, who makes $22 million a year from his channel Ryan ToysReview. Like those in generations before us, many of us want to be stars — but now with YouTube and other social media platforms, the barrier to entry is virtually zero.
In the future, many Gen Zers will still, at first, take jobs at big companies but only to learn the skills necessary to form a business later. We’ll make it commonplace to earn a living solely from freelancing and even from social media, and many of us will work from home. You can count on us to be the most entrepreneurial generation of all time.
The bottom line: Gen Z has learned from the past, and we're creating our own future. It'll be like nothing you've ever seen before.
Michael Pankowski is a student at Harvard University and head of Crimson Connection, a Generation Z marketing consulting firm run by Harvard students. He's also a panelist at PRWeek's PR Decoded: Purpose Principles conference next week in Chicago.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or crimsonconnection.net.