Which Previous Generations is Gen Z Most Like?

Image from the cover of The 7 Star’s report, Talkin’ About a New Generation

I went along to the February evening meeting of the Media Research Group where Isabella O’Duffy of The 7 Stars was talking about her report, “Talkin’ About a New Generation”.  It’s about Gen Z, born since the mid-nineties.

Isabella pointed out the difficulties of describing an entire generation in one succinct report.  I recognise those difficulties as I’ve done something similar with the Baby Boomer generation and Millennials.  There’s a fine line between over-generalisation and capturing a zeitgeist. 

The 7 Stars’ (and Visionpath’s) report can be found here.  Here it describes similarities and differences with previous generations: 

Appreciate my youth. Regardless of whether you navigated kid-ulthood in the 50s, 70s, 90s or now, most people will have had the same overarching experiences, emotions and stumbling blocks. They are going through the same milestones that the majority of people go through – of first loves, exam pressures, deciding on the path they wish to take, and struggling to earn their place in society. The key difference is the scrutiny with which others view them – through social media, mainstream media and beyond. Empathy will travel a long way in building relationships across generations”

It’s a good point.  Another paragraph led to a very interesting observation from the audience:

Do not underestimate us. Just because they have yet to have the lived experience on a situation or topic, doesn’t mean they’re any less informed than anyone else. Brexit is commonly cited as an example of this. They feel just as informed, misinformed or uninformed as anyone else in the UK”.

“That’s what my generation felt growing up in in the Sixties”, said audience member Julian Pounds, “don’t underestimate us”.  Also, echoing other points, that Gen Z feel the weight of climate change and suffer high stress, Julian talked about the fear he felt growing up in the Cold War.  Indeed, the nuclear threat is growing again.

The evening’s moderator, Frances Revel, observed that some generations have similar experiences to others, even though they’re years apart. 

It got me thinking.  If Gen Z are like 60’s kids because they’re growing up under existential threats, which other generations is Gen Z most like in terms of two other big forces, economics and technology?  After all, the Sixties kids did rather well on these fronts, but Gen Z will find them tougher.

Economically, facing growing inequality of wealth and the threat of job automation, maybe they’re more like young Georgians.  It’s the economist Thomas Piketty’s view that ‘inherited wealth will make a comeback’.  Fortuitous marriage (or partnering, rather) may re-emerge as the only way some will get on.  Jane Austen again? 

When I was selling a flat recently, I noticed nobody was viewing on their own, it was all young couples who needed to marry their monies together to get on.  Young house-hunters told me as much during some qual interviews I’ve since carried out too. Perhaps, for this reason, we’ll see a reversal of the trend towards couples marrying or co-habiting later in life, a big defining feature of Generation X and early Millennials.

Technologically, Gen Z are often compared to the generation who grew up at the start of the Industrial Revolution, retraining from agricultural skills to industrial skills, and upgrading those skills as machines developed.  They didn’t have the ‘job for life’ that the Boomers later had, and they didn’t have the ‘career for life’ (albeit with portfolio CVs) that Gen X and the early Millennials have come to enjoy.  It has been said that Gen Z will have ‘portfolio careers’, as they are forced to career hop as technology automates their previous line of work. 

However, Yuval Noah Harari offers us another perspective and a surprising (if bleak) punchline to my tale.  He sees a future for emerging generations in which new, embryonic jobs will create job openings for people forced to change career, but the new jobs will demand higher levels of skill than many are capable of or able to retrain for.  He writes, “a cashier or textile worker losing their job to a robot will hardly be able to start working as a cancer researcher, as a drone operator or as part of a human-AI banking team”.

He goes on, “Many people might share the fate not of nineteenth-century wagon drivers – who switched to driving taxis – but of nineteenth century horses, who were increasingly pushed out of the job market altogether”.

So, Gen Z, you might just be like Sixties kids, Georgian youths AND nineteenth-century horses.  I’m sure you won’t thank me for all those comparisons.  I normally like to end an article on a positive note, but I might have to settle for an appeal for anyone else with more positive analogies to share – along with the trite old expression, “cheer up, it might never happen”.

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