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These are Generation Z's most defining traits

by John Wheeler
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    Gen Z isn’t into being tagged and packaged as a group, but there are certain defining traits that this cohort holds in common. Here are four of this generation's biggest commonalities.


    It’s seldom been harder to pin down a generation than Generation Z. When the New York Times ran a survey last year asking Gen Zers what they wanted media and marketers to call their generation, here was the first reply they published: “Don’t call us anything. The whole idea of cohesive generations is nonsense.”

    There’s truth to this statement. Gen Z isn’t into being #tagged and #packaged as “Gen Z.” That being said, there are certain, defining traits that do emerge. Here’s a sampling of some of the larger trends.

    Gen Z is sheer genius at social media

    Gen Zers are far more social media literate than you are. In fact, Gen Z is to social media what Shakespeare is to drama, with a vocabulary of emojis, GIFs and memes that feels entirely its own, but that somehow also manages to resonate universally.

    For those on the outside, “reading Gen Z” can feel a bit like reading advanced literature. There will likely be some “lost in translation” that comes before understanding. But the reading is well worth it.

    Gen Z is practical about money

    Gen Z tends to be risk-averse in its financial decisions; a likely consequence of growing up in the middle of the Great Recession. It’s not like they don’t have the money to spend; they do. It’s just they know better than to waste it.

    Studies show Gen Zers save money at an earlier age than you probably did. One recent study shows 83 percent of college-age Gen Zers have plans to buy a home within the next five years, rather than rent an apartment. What’s more, they’re willing to sacrifice creature comforts to reach their main goals. Indeed, a joint survey by Auto Trader and Kelly Blue Book found that fully 72 percent of Gen Zers would give up social media and cell phones if it meant they could own a car.

    Gen Z is socially conscious

    But there’s an idealistic streak running through Gen Z as well. Research and reports demonstrate Gen Z’s overwhelming embrace of diversity and social equality, and their support of social movements drawing from these values. Their concern around school safety has led many American Gen Zers to directly confront the gun industry. Finally, Gen Z’s interest in environmentalism contrasts with previous generations who’ve placed more importance on immediate economic impact than sustainability.

    Gen Z sees individuality as an organizing principle

    Most of all, and more so than any generation in recent memory, Gen Zers see “personal identity” as being more important than any group affiliation or social bond. Generalizing adjectives — and overarching motives — can’t really tell the story of this diverse group of young people. Members of Gen Z aren’t interested in fulfilling the pre-existing goals and dreams of their parents and grandparents.

    Nor do they especially enjoy being pigeonholed or categorized unto themselves. Gen Zers are all about striking off on their own, individual paths and succeeding by their own, personal metrics and definitions. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re highly self-reliant.

    It may seem slightly paradoxical that a generation places so much emphasis on not having “generational” characteristics — but there you have it; that’s a quintessential Gen Z trait for you.

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