It might be time for the Millennial media obsession to wind down as a new generation inches up in age and takes their first baby steps into the workforce. I’m talking about Generation Z, the next demographic cohort after the Millennials. While there is no set consensus on when this generation begins, it is commonly believed that members of Generation Z were born between 1998 and 2001. That makes the oldest among them 16 to 19 years old. And the youngest? That remains to be seen because “as of yet there is little to no consensus about ending birth years.” It’s important to note that generational lines are not based on science, so clear definitions are not always available.
At 16 to 19 years old, many Americans are already working, or just getting started. Organizations are wise to start looking at their future workforce, especially because as of now Gen Z are 22% of the population and growing. Research conducted on this generation is intriguing.
An interesting question raised about Generation Z concerns their predicted political leanings. In particular, will Generation Z be the most conservative or liberal generation in decades? Let’s take a look at both sides of the spectrum:
Generation Z: Conservative?
- A 2016 American study found that while only 18% of Millennials attended church, church attendance was 41% among Generation Z.
- Polls found eight out of ten members of Gen Z considered themselves “fiscally conservative.”
- In certain areas, Generation Z is more risk-averse than the Millennials. In 2013, 66% of teenagers had tried alcohol, down from 82% in 1991.
- A 2016 study done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that Generation Z had lower teen pregnancy rates, less substance abuse, and higher on-time high school graduation rates compared to Millennials.
- Business Insider describes Generation Z as more conservative, more money-oriented, more entrepreneurial and pragmatic about money compared to Millennials. This make sense considering members of Generation Z have watched their parents live through the second worst economic decline in American history (starting in 2008), and have witnessed the aftermath of mass layoffs and rampant foreclosures.
- One British study conducted by global consultancy firm, The Guild, found Gen Z participants ten times more likely than Millennials to dislike tattoos and body piercings.
What we see here are some hallmarks of conservatism—risk averse when it comes to drugs and alcohol, significantly higher church attendance than the previous generation, conservative about money, prioritizing stability, pragmatic, and less interested in what is commonly associated with “fringe” behavior.
But it’s not that simple. Those who want to take these Generation Z findings and blanket them as largely conservative are ignoring other key aspects of the generation. For example:
Generation Z: Liberal?
- Gen Z is more diverse than any generation. Frank N. Magid estimates that Gen Z is 55% Caucasian, 24% Hispanic, 14% African American, 4% Asian and 4% mixed race or other. He also states that Gen Z exhibits positive feelingsabout ethnic diversity in the U.S. and is more likely than older generations to have social circles that include different ethnic groups, races, and religions. This makes them more sympathetic to movements regarding racism, such as Black Lives Matter, and less tolerant for institutionalized discrimination against different religions, ethnic groups or immigrants.
- Generation Z is more liberal in areas like marijuana legalization, and transgenderissues, according to a study done by The Gild. 56% of 13-to-20-year-olds said that they knew someone who went by gender neutral pronouns such as “they,” “them,” or “ze,” compared to 43% of people aged 28 to 34 years old, according to the results of the Innovation Group’s major new study. Over a third of Gen Z respondents also strongly agreed that gender did not define a person as much as it used to. This figure dropped to 23% among Millennials who were 28 and up.
- 75% of Gen Z support same sex marriage. They’re more likely to have grown up around same sex parents, and therefor don’t see this as unusual—or illegal.
- 76% are concerned about global warming. This makes sense considering the amount of environmental disasters they’ve witnessed so far, including the 2013 Colorado forest fires (most destructive wildfire in history,) tornado in Joplin, Missouri in 2011 (single deadliest tornado in US history since advent of modern weather forecasting,) the flooding devastating Mississippi river valley (one of largest and most damaging floods recorded in past century,) and much more.
- It has been reported that Generation Z are, “the least likely to believe that there is such a thing as the American Dream.”
- Having grown up bombarded by mass shootings in their own country, and terrorist attacks overseas, this generation more likely supports gun control.
These findings paint the picture of a more liberal ideology with environmental concern, support for gay marriage and transgender rights, inherent acceptance of diversity, and supportive view of legalizing marijuana.
It’s Time to Rethink What Divides Us
So which is it? How do we categorize a generation that presents common ideals of both conservatives and liberals? Maybe we don’t. Maybe we need to rethink what it is to be “conservative” and “liberal” and consider that in the future the distinction will be different. This generation just might disrupt the huge US bipartisan divide we are experiencing now. And maybe we would be better for it.