We’ve officially entered the era of Generation Z


The Washington Post published a list of books for women from Millennials who are entering the workforce. It’s a little late for that, because this year is the first college graduation for Generation Z.

It’s time to make a mental shift. Every time you imagine what your kid will be doing when they grow up, play this game: If Millennials would like it then Generation Z won’t.

Your kid won’t build their own brand. Generation Z thinks social media is ridiculous and they don’t even use their real names in email. Though really, how could they? All the real names in gmail were taken by the time Gen Z got there. Millennials built their social capital by looking perfect on Instagram. But Generation Z has no interest in looking pristine.

Your kid won’t climb ladders. Generation Z is unimpressed with the idea of disruption. The Internet has been disrupting everything since the 90s. Generation Z wants to put things back together in a way that creates justice for all. MBA applications will continue to decrease because Gen Z wants to elevate institutions rather than elevate themselves. And you don’t need an MBA if you want to stick with everyone else.

Your kid won’t drive. Expensive cars will give way to cheap green cars and cars that are shared. Public transportation will get less expensive because Generation Z is very, very price sensitive. And while getting a driver’s license used to be a trope of teenage years, 30 percent of Generation Z says they don’t plan on getting a driver’s license. Ever.

Your kid won’t go to law school. Most practicing lawyers struggle to pay back their school loans, which means the law schools are overpriced. The unemployment rate among law school grads is so high that some people think it’s fraudulent. And law schools (more than other graduate schools) are set up so that kids with wealthy parents get higher grades. Generation Z is repelled by this sort of structural unfairness, and being part of the problem will be unacceptable. This is much different from how Millennials leveraged inequality to solidify their status.

Your kid will push for diversity. Everywhere. But it won’t be what you’re expecting. We won’t talk about minorities because most members of this generation will be non-white. Instead we’ll talk about people who are economically disadvantaged or mentally different. Generational heroes will be people like Cody McLain who grew up in foster care with autism and built a successful business as an adult.

Your kid will work locally. When Generation Z is too conscious of their global footprint to jet across the globe. Generation Z is practical and concerned with building physical communities before they disintegrate under the weight of the Internet. So a millenniel might work at Qualcomm in San Diego racking up frequent flier miles, and extend business travel into an exotic adventure long enough to post on Facebook. But the corollary person in Generation Z will work locally at a San Diego lawn care service offering new, earth friendly services, and rather than taking pictures of themselves, this person will take pictures of community improvements.

Did you see the speech Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave to Congress about her Green New Deal? She said previous generations have refused to spend serious money on saving the climate. So the coming generation will have to take responsibility for climate. This is how Generation Z will feel about everything. They will tell us older generations that we were irresponsible. They will not be a generation known for selfies. Generation Z has too much to fix.

19 replies
  1. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    Unfortunately, the boomers are retiring, and we want our Social Security, Medicare and state/local government pensions. We are going to break the bank.

    So you can forget about any expensive Green programs, or Basic Income or Medicare for All. Gen Z is going to have to live without activist government. I’m not sure what they’ll do instead!

    They will also have to deal with increasingly capable robots, and increasingly sophisticated economies in the third world. I hope they get a better education than it looks like they are going to get, or else they just won’t be able to compete.

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      I also wonder about how the large aging population will be taken care of. Maybe I’m more attuned to this because my mother in law is 93 and in memory care with worsening dementia. There is going to be a big swath of the population facing the need for long term care and I wonder how all that will be handled. People are living so much longer now, but those years aren’t always good. With medications and science keeping people living well into their 90s and beyond, but often dealing with things like dementia and needing full time care, how will this be handled for such a large population? My mother in law’s facility charges $5000 a month for all the care she needs and I just wonder what is in store for the future.

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    My oldest son graduates from Purdue a week from Sunday. Goodness, Penelope, I’ve been reading you long enough that when I found your blog I think my kids weren’t even teenagers yet.

    I think you’ve described my son and his age peers well.

    In our Generation X lifetimes all we’ve seen is institutions being dismantled, some slowly and some suddenly. Good riddance to some of them. But society needs institutions to function well. I look forward to the new institutions my son and his peers will build.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Gen Z’ers are the kids being raised by us Generation X parents. We have always been a passed over generation, barely acknowledged in surveys.. but our kids are somehow making us relevant. It’s kind of exciting to watch how our parenting is creating this hardy and realistic demographic. The first generation to be raised with Smart technology… I’m curious to see how this turns out.

    I also think there is for a sure a difference between Gen Zers being raised by Millenials vs Gen Xers.

    My friends who are Gen X and on the wealthier side definitely still pay for their Gen Z kids expensive MBA’s. I think that is more personal and subjective for Gen X and we’ve never really been a generation that is easy to paint with a broad brush. So if Gen Z has that attitude regarding MBA’s then perhaps when they have their own families is where historians will see the different attitudes come into play.

    The whole Lori Laughlin and other rich Gen Xers getting caught in the college scandal sort of proves that point. Gen Z is just going with the flow when it comes to college.

  4. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I’m sooooo excited we’re talking about Gen Z. My two daughters are Gen Z and I have three coworkers who are young Millennials who mostly act like Gen Z. As a Gen Xer, I find them all fascinating and refreshing. Some of my observations:

    1) They just figure stuff out. They don’t require a lot of hand-holding. If they can’t figure it out, they go to YouTube and another Gen Z shows them how.

    2) They’re egalitarian. I can’t see my kids judging much about other people (with the exception of some of my wardrobe choices, but I’m the mom). They don’t care what your sexual orientation, race, gender, socioeconomic level, etc., is.

    3) Like Gen X, they’re not afraid to be the Alpha, but they don’t HAVE to be the Alpha. Boomers all want to be the alpha. Often it’s a struggle to get a Millennial to step up and be the Alpha.

    4) I’m also fascinated by my kids and their friends trend of thrift store shopping (how very Pretty in Pink.) It’s not just about saving money, it’s about saving the environment.

    Keep the Gen Z posts coming. It’s a very exciting time!

  5. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I find these generational comparisons interesting because at 39, I’m part of the xennial generation, the generation between X and Y. Too young for some of the things gen X was getting into, but then aged out of things that gen Y made popular. It’s kind of like a generational salad bar with my peers in that our habits are a mix-pick a little of this and a little of that and don’t fit completely in one generation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xennials

  6. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I’m thrilled that my two-year-old will benefit from work done by her generation’s elders and will hopefully share the same values you’ve listed and work toward shared goals of equality, diversity, and climate stability. I needed some good news today. Gen Z, thanks in advance for saving us from ourselves – I believe in you!

  7. Not that Melissa
    Not that Melissa says:

    Huh, at the age of 38 I think I might be Gen Z. I’m constantly telling the older generations that they were irresponsible and selfish.

  8. Laura F
    Laura F says:

    I’m 32 and a millennial and I know this isn’t important, but it winds me up so much that I am going to be counted as one of the “selfish generations” when I grew up with the shadow of climate change hanging over me, have been talking about this stuff my whole teen and adult life, never got my driver’s, have been vegetarian and then vegan for over a decade, was part of the generation that paved the way for the conversations we’re now FINALLY having about thermageddon, back whenever anyone who mentioned it was a crank or a killjoy, by constantly being a crank and a killjoy. My generation is the one who has always known we were destroying the world, that the time was coming fast, always had that as part of our psyche, our reality. Just because it’s taken this long to get urgency of it to mainstream as an idea does NOT mean no-one gave a shit before.

  9. Badgergirl
    Badgergirl says:

    I’m a believer that all generations have their pros and cons. When so many were fed up with millennials, I found those in my field of professional creativity/marketing to be innovative (especially the older Gen Ys, who really brought us into the internet). However, I’ve got to say I’m wondering how Gen Z Will be able to fix what the older generations have broken. It seems they have few communicative skills outside their smartphones, and that doesn’t include using them as a phone. Gen Z barely knows how to make a phone call, let alone communicate in person.

  10. Algrim.co
    Algrim.co says:

    This is such a valuable observation about Gen-Z. Remarkably accurate in my experience, as well. Especially from the simple angle of “they won’t drive anymore”. There’s a big change happening with Gen-Z and its quite shocking. We need to be prepared for it as employers, as parents and as older generations who are looking to provide guidance to the young. They have a different set of morals, goals, outlooks. We have to respect it. Great writeup here Penelope!

  11. Simone
    Simone says:

    So true! I just asked my gen z team about social media yesterday. They seem to be pretty “over it.” There is still a strong desire for a degree from a credible institution, and few of them have their drivers license.
    How do you think gen z feels about other social issues such as womens rights? In my world this is a major issue that comes up and that they are behind.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s nice that you ask. Nothing in particular happened. I think I am noticing that I have very little time left with my kids at home. They are 14 and 17 and the 14 year old will go to college early. They will be gone soon. So now more than ever I am telling myself the non-kid stuff I do can wait.

      Of course that’s not the best strategy for someone who is the sole breadwinner. So you can bet I’ll be posting again. It’s shocking how fast kids grow up. It’s a cliche, I know. But it’s a cliche for a reason.


  12. Kathy Jenkins
    Kathy Jenkins says:

    Penelope, I found you in 2003 when I had given up a professional job, followed my husband to a new town and wasn’t working. You were very kind to answer this 47 year old at the time. I am now 63, have bought and sold a business, split with the husband, found a new guy and living in my hometown. Whew! I have followed you through the years when time permitted. You are smart to devote time on your children. I believe you have always done this. My best to you! Keep on keeping on girl!

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