What Are the Core Characteristics of Generation Z?
Generation Z has emerged as a population increasingly worthy of attention, especially now as its older members are in their 20s and have become a politically engaged force in recent elections. Born after 1996, Generation Zers made up one-tenth of the 2020 electorate and have added 8.3 million newly eligible voters since November 2020. While they share a number of characteristics with Millennials, their formative years have been shaped by a drastically different world, resulting in key differences in attitudes, tendencies and outlook. Statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center and the KIDS COUNT® Data Center paint a clear picture. Here’s what we know.
Diversity Is Their Norm
One of the core characteristics of Generation Z is racial diversity. As America’s demographics continue to shift, Gen Z will be the last generation that is predominantly white. As Gen Zers grew up during 2000 to 2020, the share of white kids fell from 61% to 50%. Children in immigrant families grew more common, too, jumping from 19% to 25% of the country’s child population during this timeframe. The oldest Gen Zers turned 18 in 2015, and the latest data for young adults ages 18 to 24 in 2020 showed that a slight majority are 53% white, 23% are Latino, 14% are Black, 6% are Asian, 3% are two or more race groups and 1% are American Indian or Alaska Native.
For many Gen Zers, the backdrop of their early years included the country’s first Black president and the legalization of gay marriage. They are more likely to have grown up amid diverse family structures — whether in a single-parent household, a multiracial household, or a household in which gender roles were blurred. As a result, they are less fazed than previous generations by differences in race, sexual orientation or religion.
They Are Our First “Digital Natives”
Another characteristic of Generation Z is their native use of technology. Whereas Millennials were considered “digital pioneers,” who bore witness to the explosion of technology and social media, Gen Z was born into a world of peak technological innovation — where information was immediately accessible and social media increasingly ubiquitous.
These technological advancements have had both positive and negative effects on Gen Z. On the plus side: an abundance of information is at their fingertips, allowing Gen Zers to broaden their knowledge and be proactive in their learning. On the other hand, too much screen time can compound feelings of isolation and lead to underdeveloped social skills. Additionally, technology is changing the economy, leaving low-income Gen Zers vulnerable as they enter the workforce.
They Are Pragmatic and Financially Minded
Financial mindedness is another core characteristic of Generation Z. Many Gen Zers grew up watching their parents take huge financial hits during the Great Recession. Having witnessed their parents’ struggles, this generation is driven by pragmatism and security.
While Millennials came of age during an economic boom, Gen Zers were shaped by the economic pressures their families and communities faced, like the financial stress of the rental market. Thus, they value the stability that comes with conservative spending, stable jobs and smart investments.
Many Factors Contribute to Their Mental Health Challenges
Mental health challenges are a sad characteristic of Generation Z, which has been referred to by some as the “loneliest generation,” as their endless hours spent online can foster feelings of isolation and depression. More time spent on smartphones or watching Netflix means less time spent cultivating meaningful relationships. Additionally, many young people fall prey to the “compare and despair” trap that social media presents.
Gen Z kids also find their mental health affected by the turbulent state of the world. As political activism among Gen Z has increased, many Gen Zers have internalized the unrest surrounding issues like gun control, police brutality and climate change — leading to increased levels of stress.
They Are Shrewd Consumers
As consumers, Gen Z’s behavior reflects their values — and the influence of an increasingly digital world. Gen Z kids can rely on their tech savvy and extensive social media platforms to make informed purchasing decisions. Their pragmatism leads them to explore and evaluate a range of options before settling on a product. In addition, they are more likely to be swayed by the recommendations of real-life users than by celebrity endorsements.
In much the same way that Gen Zers use social media as a means to curate their own personal brand, they also look at their purchasing decisions as an expression of their values and identity. As an example, they are drawn to sustainable products and brands — and are often willing to pay more for them. They value personalized products, and they are drawn to brands who share their point of view on political issues.
They Are Politically Progressive — Even Those on the Right
Most generations tend to be more left-leaning than the previous generation, and Gen Z is no exception. While Gen Zers look a lot like Millennials on many key issues, they are the most politically progressive generation yet. They are the generation most likely to see the advancement of LGBTQ rights as a positive development. Even among Republicans, Gen Zers take a more progressive stance on social issues: they agree that Black Americans are treated more unfairly in this country, they believe the government should play a greater role in solving problems and they are more likely to attribute climate change to human activity, as opposed to natural patterns.
Continue Learning About Generation Z
Gen Z is still growing up, but as they continue to come of age, early signs indicate that they will grow into engaged, conscientious stewards of our world — by being socially-minded, independent thinkers, who recognize their responsibility in shaping a more equitable future for all.
More Resources on Generation Z
- 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book
- KIDS COUNT Adds New Dataset on Youth and Young Adults
- What the Statistics Say About Generation Z
- Social Issues That Matter to Generation Z
- Generation Z and Mental Health
- Statistics Snapshot: Generation Z and Education
- What is Generation Alpha?
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