Generation Z, iGen, Post-Millennials, Homeland Generation, Gen Tech, Digital Natives or Delta Generation…
Whatever you want to call them, this new generation is here to stay and is already having a big impact on our world.
While many narratives have been pushed around about this generation over the past few years, a closer look at the facts reveals that Generation Z doesn’t really fit in any of the traditional boxes we’ve placed other generations in.
Of course, grouping any large amount of people solely based on birth years is going to result in a great deal of diversity of opinion and attitudes being covered over by mass generalizations. However, with Generation Z, the ability to pin down some core values is proving to be quite difficult so far.
What came before Gen Z?
The “Greatest Generation” favoured tradition and valued self sacrifice and respect for authority. The Boomers flipped all that around with their anti war, anti government, free spirited ways.
Generation X was the pragmatic but cynical generation, self reliant and suspicious of Boomer values.
Millennials were the opposite, optimistic and confident, they sought to create a more global and tolerant world.
Generation Z has thus far been a bit of an enigma, containing some of the social liberalism of the Boomers and Millennials but also the cynicism and respect for tradition of generation X and the “Greatest Generation”.
The left and right are fighting to win Gen Z
On the political side of things, we’ve seen commentators from both the left and the right make the case that Generation Z is trending towards their respective sides of the political system.
Those on the left claim that Gen Z is a very progressive generation, thanks to their socially liberal views and diverse makeup while those on the right say they’re the most conservative generation yet, due to their frugal monetary habits and reduced indulgence in sex and drugs.
There’s certainly a good case to be made in either direction. Generation Z is indeed the most diverse generation America has seen yet with 48% of them being non-white. Of course, the implicit bias here is that because of their diverse ethnic makeup, Generation Z is inherently going to be more liberal. However, this could very well be the case.
A 2014 study found that 71% of Generation Z voters think that healthcare should be free for everyone, 75% agreed that everyone should have the right to marry, regardless of sexual orientation and 63% think that everyone should have the right to become a U.S. citizen, regardless of where they were born or how they came to the country.
A 2018 survey done in the wake of the Parkland shooting showed that 68% of youth aged 13-17 think that a ban on “assault-style weapons” would make the U.S. a much safer place.
That same survey also showed that only 21% of these youth aged 13-17 strongly identified as Republicans, compared to 37% as Democrats. Additionally, these members of Generation Z are not big fans of President Trump with a whopping 72% of them saying they strongly or somewhat disapprove of his performance thus far.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is strong evidence to show that Generation Z is most conservative generation we’ve tracked yet. A U.K. study from The Gild showed that 59% of Generation Z respondents described their views as either conservative or moderate on issues like transgender rights, marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage.
Another report from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service showed that teenage pregnancies are down 55% over the last decade.
That report showed that “a significant minority (24%) report that they never drink alcohol, and of those who did drink, most did so at relatively low levels, with more than one quarter (28%) consuming 1-2 units on a typical occasion, and half (50%) consuming 1-4 units. Overall among those who drank, 69% drank 6 units or less on a typical occasion.”
Turning away from social media
Today’s teens, seeing the downsides of growing up in the social media age, are increasingly unplugging, taking a break or all together quitting social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Seeing the consuming effect that these addictive social sites have had on themselves or their peers, more and more members of Gen Z are logging off of social media and taking a break from its demanding toll.
One survey of school aged children in Britain found that 63% of them would be happier if social media had never been invented. Another poll of 9,000 people aged 18-24 from Ampere Analysis showed that the percentage of respondents who said “social media is important to me” dropped from 66% in 2016 to 57% in 2018.
Speaking anecdotally, I’ve had several friends either delete certain social media apps from their phones or remove themselves from the site all together because of the effect it was having on their time management and/or mental health.
In an age where tweets of nearly a decade ago can cause you to lose an Oscar gig or where previously private and intimate photos can be hacked and seen by the whole world, today’s youth are painfully aware of the dangers of social media.
More fiscally responsible economically
On economics, their outlook seems to be a broader trend toward fiscal responsibility and a conservative approach to money.
Living through the Great Recession and seeing the hard times their parents went through coupled with the effect of crushing school debt on millennials are two key factors that have shaped Gen Z’s understanding of money.
A 2017 study showed that 1 in 5 Gen Z respondents believe debt should be avoided at all costs. Another survey showed that 60% of Gen Z already has savings accounts and that 71% of them say they are focused on saving for their future goals. On top of being saving savvy, members of Gen Z also have a bit of an entrepreneurial streak in them with 70% saying they currently work self employed jobs.
Despite 4 out of 10 American members of Gen Z would prefer to live in a socialist country, a majority of them (53%) would still like to live in a capitalist country. While this support for socialism may seem high, it is still part of a downward trend from the previous generation of Millennials of which 46% support socialism and only 40% prefer capitalism.
Social and economic politics notwithstanding, one key theme that seems to resonate across the political divide is the high value placed on authenticity and individualism by many members of Gen Z.
Having grown up in the state of constant internet marketing, Gen Z is quite skeptical of big brands and has a well tuned B.S. filter that quickly senses when companies are just out to make a quick buck.
Many teens today look to their brands to stand for something or represent a type of lifestyle. A recent survey of Canadian girls aged 14 to 19 found that 65% of them felt it was important for brands to stand for something. It’s attitudes like these that have lead companies to pursue partnerships with social media influencers to gain the trust of Gen Z consumers.
A platform where this strategy is particularly prevalent is YouTube. Almost every member of Gen Z is on it and half of them say “they can’t live without it.”
While Gen Z recognizes the increased corporatization of YouTube, 30% of them still trust ads on YouTube more than any other source of advertising. In light of these facts, more and more business (and news outlets) are putting their production and advertising dollars to work on YouTube in order to win over this new generation on consumers.
However, Gen Z isn’t taking the corporate overhaul of YouTube lying down. Case in point: The ongoing battle between PewDiePie and T-Series for the top spot on the platform.
Heroes of Gen Z
Currently, PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) is the most subscribed channel with over 77 million subscribers and counting. The Indian music video channel T-Series, while originally predicted to pass PewDiePie some weeks ago, sits close behind at nearly 76 million subscribers. However, thanks to an incredible effort from fans and fellow YouTuber’s, PewDiePie’s subscriber count has surged in the last month and he maintains a tight but solid lead over the corporate account of T-Series.
This silly and quirky campaign to keep PewDiePie on top perfectly captures the zeitgeist of this generation. With one of their favourite YouTuber’s (55% of PewDiePie’s audience is aged 13-24) facing a challenge from a rising corporate brand, many members of Gen Z found creative ways to do their part and increase PewDiePie’s subscriber account by putting up posters, renting out billboards and even hacking thousands of printers worldwide to print out “subscribe to PewDiePie” messages.
Even in spite of a recent barrage of negative media coverage due to Kjellberg’s allegedly accidental promotion of an Anti-Semitic channel, his fans continue to stay loyal and his subscriber count keeps steadily growing.
While Kjellberg did take responsibility for this act and edited the original video so that the account was no longer shown, the mainstream media has not let up in their attacks. While a blunder like this will always be accompanied by a certain level of media outrage, this particular scenario has really got out of hand with media outlets accusing Kjellberg of amplifying anti-semitism and white supremacy and radicalizing his young fan base.
Why would media companies go to such lengths to smear YouTube’s biggest star?
Mainstream media out of touch with Gen Z
While many brands and companies may be able to successfully transition into the YouTube era, traditional media outlets are finding it much more of a challenge. Faced with declining revenues and increasingly smaller audiences, these mainstream media outlets are lashing out at the more popular figures in this new sphere in a desperate attempt for clicks and status. My colleague Barrett Wilson clearly lays out their rationale in his recent column for The Post Millennial:
“So why is it that all of these mainstream journalists and outlets want to end PewDiePie? It’s not because he’s a hateful or problematic figure, it’s way simpler than that. It’s that he’s more popular. What the popularity of people like PewDiePie, Sargon of Akkad, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, et al, shows us is that the traditional media companies no longer exclusively control the narrative. That drives them crazy. And that’s why they continually pump our moral panic-inspired clickbait. And that’s why they are trying to erase people.”
This is exactly right. Many of these pieces targeting figures like PewDiePie or attempts to link popular mainstream pundits and professors like Dave Rubin and Jordan Peterson to white supremacist types via the ludicrous “Alternative Influence Network,” are nothing more than thinly veiled attempts to deplatform or delegitimize voices that have become so much more influential than them.
If the PewDiePie versus T-Series situation is of any indication, the politics of Gen Z, whether they be more conservative or liberal, do not matter a great deal. What does matter is the fact that Gen Z is ditching cable TV at rapid rate and turning to genuine and authentic YouTuber’s for their daily dose of news. While trust in the media has really taken a nosedive over the past two decades, this is especially true with younger people.
In a study conducted by Anchor Free for Jack Myers Knowledge Exchange, Gen Z respondents said that they trust banks and pharmaceutical companies more than the media. While 23% trusted pharmaceutical companies and 11% trusted banks, only an astounding 4.6% of Gen Z trusted the media. T
his makes sense however when you consider that Gen Z has grown up in an increasingly hyper partisan world which is covered by an ever more divided media. If they’ve already rejected the technology with which much of this news is communicated on, why would they make the effort to consume the content if they don’t know who to trust? Logging on to YouTube and watching a relatable, authentic person break down the day’s news tailored to their interests is the logical choice for many teens today.
While PewDiePie has dabbled a bit in the realm of news, the most prominent YouTuber in this field is Philip DeFranco. “Philly D,” as he is know by his fans, produces videos Monday through Friday breaking down the news of the day covering everything from tech to politics.
With ratings that beat the likes of Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart, DeFranco is the site’s biggest news star and the primary source of news for many members of Gen Z.
As we move forward in this time of a shifting media landscape, the consumption habitats and patterns of this next generation will play an important role in determining what platforms and outlets will survive and succeed.
While the members of Gen Z continue to shift away from the traditional sources like cable news and print media and towards the modern mediums of podcasting and video, the way is paved for outlets who’ve already had great success on YouTube, like The Young Turks or The Daily Wire, to lead the way in 21st century news.
If traditional outlets like CNN, Fox News, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal fail to adjust to this burgeoning age of authentic, relatable and transparent news, they risk fading into irrelevancy with a generation demanding exactly just that.