Comparing Gen Z to/with Millennials and Gen X
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A compilation of the similarities and differences between Generation Z, and Millennials and Generation X has been provided on key attitudes and behaviors relating to such key life areas as work, education, identity, and family. A summary comparing the money attitudes and habits of Gen Z to the other two generations, as well as where each group sources financial advice/education has also been presented. As Gen Z are considered to predominantly be the children of Gen X, some of the attitudes and habits, as well as approaches to money management for the two generations appear similar. On the other hand, as they are close to age, some of the attitudes and habits, as well as approaches to money management for Gen Z and Millennials also have some similarities.

General Attributes

  • Generation Z individuals are said to be: focused, entrepreneurial, digital natives, independent, and multi-taskers, diverse, aspirationalists, keen on personalization, and skeptics/cynical.
  • Millennials are considered to be: achievers, aspirationalists, diverse, avid consumers, highly tolerant, self-confident, sociable, digital pioneers, and optimists/idealistic.
  • The main characteristics describing Generation X are: pragmatists, entrepreneurial, independent, informal, self-reliant, diverse, digital immigrants, and skeptics/cynical.
  • In general, Gen Zers aspire to have security and stability, Millennials would like to have freedom and flexibility, while Gen Xers would like to have work-life balance.

Attitudes and Behaviors Relating to Key Areas in Life

The attitudes and behaviors relating to identity, work, education, family and connections, and interests in sustainability and activism of Gen Z are compared to those of Millennials and Gen X below:

Identity

  • Diversity matters to Gen Z more than it does any other generation. They consider diversity through many dimensions including race, gender, identity, and orientation.
  • Gen Z is the “most racially and ethnically diverse cohort with a bare majority, 52%, of 6-21 year-olds being non-Hispanic white. In comparison, non-Hispanic white Millennials (aged 6-21 in 2002) were 39% of Millennials and non-Hispanic white Gen Xers (aged 6-21 in 1986) accounted for 30% of Gen X.”
  • Gen Z shares similar views with Millennials on racial and ethnic change in the country, with about six-in-ten from each generation saying increased racial and ethnic diversity is a good thing. Gen Xers are somewhat less likely to agree, with 52% saying racial and ethnic diversity is a good thing.
  • To affirm their acceptance of diversity, this pattern is similar for gay and interracial marriages in both Gen Z and Millennials: 48% of Gen Zers and 47% of Millennials, as compared to 33% of Gen Xers, say that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry has been a good thing for the country. Also, 53% of both Gen Z and Millennials, as compared to 41% of Gen Xers, say interracial marriage is a good thing for our society.
  • The Gen Z experiences reflect, in part, broad trends that have reshaped the American family in recent decades. “29% of Gen Zers live in a household with an unmarried parent, while 66% live with two married parents. A roughly comparable share of Millennials (69%) lived with two married parents at a similar age, but the share among Gen Xers was significantly larger at 72%.”

Family and Connections

Education

  • About one in five Gen Z and younger millennials report that they may choose not to attend college based on the number of young Americans who report that their degree is irrelevant to their work, and after observing the level of debt their parents (Gen X) and older siblings (Millennials) have from student loans. They are looking at such options as attending community college instead of a 4-year college or taking a gap year between high school and college.
  • This appears to be a valid concern as Gen Zers are more concerned about the cost of education (21%), compared to Millennials (13%).
  • Although Gen Z are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to be enrolled in college, “among 18- to 21-year-olds no longer in high school in 2018, 57% were enrolled in a two-year or four-year college. This compares with 52% among Millennials in 2003 and 43% among members of Gen X in 1987.”
  • However, a Deloitte report found that “contrary to popular belief, Gen Z is not reevaluating the value of a college education.” Gen Zers view a “traditional four-year college education to be more important than ever before” and are “quickly becoming the most educated and debt-laden generation in history.”
  • In addition, 38% of Gen Z believe that colleges are doing a good job of preparing them for a career compared to 28% of Millennials

Career Development

  • Gen Zers are less likely to be working than previous generations when they were teens and young adults. “Only 18% of Gen Z aged 15 to 17 were employed in 2018, compared with 27% of Millennial teens in 2002 and 41% of Gen Xers in 1986. And among young adults ages 18 to 22, while 62% of Gen Zers were employed in 2018, higher shares of Millennials (71%) and Gen Xers (79%) were working when they were a comparable age.”
  • Gen Zers are more aggressive in the job-search than other generations. 25% of them start their job search in freshman/sophomore year and half of them start in junior/senior year. Only 10% of them start their job search after college.
  • Workplace engagement matters less to Gen Z than it did to previous generations, as they are more motivated by compensation and benefits.
  • Gen Z “view work primarily as a way to make a living rather than as the main source of meaning and purpose in their lives.” Although an enjoyable environment would be preferable, financial stability takes precedence, with 2 in 3 Gen Zers preferring to have a job that offers financial stability than one that they enjoy.
  • In comparison, Millennials generally prioritize finding a job that is more fulfilling over one that simply pays the bills. 41% of Millennials want a job with an opportunity for growth compared to 30% of Gen Z.
  • Gen Z career development path is “to have diverse and entrepreneurial opportunities with the safety of stable employment,” as compared to Millennials whose career development paths “seem to be directed toward startups and early-stage companies.”
  • Although Gen Xers enjoy work, they are more concerned about work/life navigation and care less about advancement.
  • Gen Zers are yet to figure out their work-life balance and are considered to be the likeliest to report feeling guilty when using paid vacation time. In a study, “nearly half of Gen Z workers (47%) reported feeling the most pressure to check email and voicemail while on vacation, compared to 40% of Millennials and 34% of Gen X workers.”

Interest in Sustainability and Activism

  • Gen Z and some Millennials are highly involved in the pursuit of sustainability and environmentally friendly and organic products. Gen Xers are not as interested in sustainability and environmentally friendly and organic products.
  • 92% of Gen Z “say they care about social and environmental issues, and they express concern for the future. 89% say they are worried about the health of our planet.”
  • To solve this, 94% of Gen Zers believe that companies should help address critical issues as compared to 87% of Millennials, and 86% of the general population.
  • Although Gen Z will take a stand on ethics and sustainability matters, they are considered “dialoguers” and prefer to have “a less antagonistic relationship with brands.”
  • They are slightly less apt to take more confrontational actions in comparison to their older cohorts. For example, 76% of Gen Z boycott a company compared to 90% of Millennials, and 88% of the general population.

Technology Usage and Attitudes/Habits

Tech Channels Usage

  • Gen Zers are considered digital natives and technologists with “little or no memory of the world as it existed” before the internet and social media, while Millennials watched the internet develop and are considered digital pioneers. On the other hand, Gen Xers “saw the development and advancement of technology across their childhood and early adulthood” and are considered digital immigrants.
  • About 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds have access to a smartphone compared to 93% of Millennials and 90% of Gen Xers.
  • Both Gen Z and Millennials are heavily connected to the internet and social media, with Gen Zers spending 10 hours online each day, as compared to 7.5 hours spent online daily by Millennials.
  • 89% of Gen Zers, 88% of Millennials, and 81% of Generation Xers use social media daily.
  • On average, Gen Zers spend 2 hours 55 minutes per day on social media platforms as compared to 2 hours 38 minutes per day spent by Millennials and nearly two hours per day spent by Gen X.
  • Gen Zers consider social media as their primary method of communication. Specifically, the communication formats for Gen Zers in order of preference are: social media, instant messaging, and in-person. In comparison, Millennials’ communication formats in order of preference are: e-mail, text messaging, social media, and in-person; and those for Gen X in order of preference are: in-person, mobile phones, and computers.
  • Gen Zers are primarily attracted to video-based platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and more recently, TikTok; while both Millennials and Gen Xers are mainly on YouTube and Facebook.
  • Although Instagram and YouTube are older and more established than apps like TikTok or Snapchat, they have pulled in Gen Zers just as they have Millennials.
  • While Generation Zers spend more time on fewer platforms: (YouTube (89%), Instagram (74%), and Snapchat (68%); Millennials are more likely to divide their time across a wider range of platforms, (Facebook (87%), YouTube (86%), Instagram (71%), Snapchat (52%), Twitter (42%), and Pinterest (42%).
  • YouTube is popular in all generations with Gen Zers (89%), Millennials (86%), and Generation Xers (68%), use it at least once a week. 

Tech Habits

  • Gen Z primarily follows brands on Instagram as compared to Millennials and Gen X who primarily follow brands on Facebook.
  • Both Gen Z and Gen X primarily discover new brands on YouTube as compared to Millennials who do so on Facebook.
  • All groups discover new products through sponsored ads, with Gen Z and Millennials doing so slightly more at 67%, as compared to 63% of Gen Xers.
  • All three groups make purchase decisions based on content from YouTube.
  • Although the three generations trust a brand with videos more than one without, Gen Z and Gen X trust that less at 52% as compared to 70% of Millennials.
  • Gen Zers are more likely to purchase through mobile apps, social media, and bloggers than Millennials and Gen X.
  • Gen Z (23%) use social media to follow celebrities, compared to 18% and 9% of Millennials and Gen X, respectively. Related to that, Gen Zers are more likely than any other group to turn to social networks to get inspired as they are ”influenced by online video bloggers they relate to.”
  • When purchasing a product, Gen Zers use the internet to seek for better deals by conducting pre-purchase research, “unlike older generations who rely on traditional reward programs and special offers.”
  • Gen Z is the most likely of all generations to take action after seeing a sponsored ad in search results, by both clicking on the ad and making an online or offline purchase of the product.
  • A majority of Gen Z (80%) use social media primarily to connect with friends and family, while only 22% use it to share their opinions or influence broader audiences. Other sources provide that only a third of Gen Z use social networks to share pictures and updates. This is unlike Millennials “who are known for using social media to share their world with the world, often an idealized version of their actual life,” a practice that was adopted by other generations like Gen X.

Financial Outlook/Managing Finances: Comparison of Generation Z, and Millennials and Generation X

Attitude Towards Money

  • Gen Zers are considered to be cautious and frugal spenders and tend to stockpile cash for the future. Millennials on the other hand are “stereotyped as spenders.”
  • Gen Zers are also more frugal about their spending than their Gen X parents, who are known for “being the biggest spenders across all demographics”.
  • Gen Zers are establishing themselves as the “saving generation.”
  • This generation is also more informed about investing than their millennial counterparts.
  • However, Gen Zers are stressed about money. According to the American Psychological Association, “for more than three in 10 Gen Zs, personal debt (33%) and housing instability (31%) were significant sources of stress.”
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Millennials believed their financial situation would improve and were not stressed by it. However, with the economic downturn occasioned by the pandemic, 77% of Millennials as compared to 66% of Gen Zers are stressed by their financial situation. Even prior to the pandemic, Gen X was “most stressed about credit card debt.”
  • Gen Xers “have certainly had a strong influence on the financial attitudes of their Gen Z kids, based on having lived through tough economic situations like the financial crash of 2008.”

Financial Education

  • Both Gen Zers and Millennials are more inclined to get their financial information online. Like Millennials, a significant number of Gen Zers already have a finance or payment app on their phone.
  • Gen Z has pursued financial education opportunities at a higher rate than their elders, “with 35% of them having attended a financial education program or seminar, compared with only 12% of Millennials.”
  • 30% of Gen Zers have also reported that they’ve seen a financial advisor at least once.
  • Gen X, as the parents of Gen Z parents, are also a source of financial education for Gen Zers. In a 2017 study, “56% of Gen Z reported having discussed financial matters with their parents within the prior six months and 53% had discussed earning money with their parents.”
  • That Gen X is talking about financial matters with their Gen Z children is a different way of parenting from other prior generations, like the Baby Boomers, who did not offer such guidance to their children.
  • As mentioned, Millennials prefer apps to humans, for financial advice. They tend towards a do-it-yourself (DIY) method, with almost half of Millennials in a survey saying they prefer to learn about finance on a website.
  • Millennials are “somewhat distrustful of the financial advice given to them by their parents or financial professionals, whom they often view as salesmen with only their own best interests at heart.”
  • Gen Xers are more likely to seek out the help of a financial advisor for money management and investment advice, although sources estimate that over 60% of this group is not working with a financial advisor. 
  • In general, “the results of many surveys seem to indicate that both Gen Z and Millennials could benefit from a better understanding of financial products presented online, and how they work. Although there is valuable financial insight on the internet, incorrect or misleading information is also plentiful.”
  • Gen Zers are hungry for financial information and 53% of them believe that financial classes should be mandatory in both high school and in college.
  • Gen Zers believe that financial education programs are extremely valuable, far more than all other generations, and are more likely than any other generation to attend a financial education program.
  • Their areas of interest include budgeting, investing, and understanding credit.

Money Management Habits

  • Gen Z’s experience of watching their parents and older siblings grapple with the fallout of the 2008 economic crisis has created two of their most significant financial habits: “a strong inclination for saving and an aversion to debt.”
  • Consequently, this generation has a clear preference for financial products that help them live within a budget, such as:
    • Prepaid cards. 46% of Gen Z say they already use or are likely to use a prepaid card, compared with 35% of Millennials, “presumably because these cards help to control/limit spending.”
    • “Similarly, 49% of Gen Z already use or are likely to use no overdraft accounts, compared with 19% of the general population.”
  • For their saving habit:
    • 21% of Gen Z has had a savings account since before the age of 10, “demonstrating that habits around saving and financial discipline have been ingrained for many of them since a young age.”
    • Compared to Millennials, Gen Z values saving money and makes more of an effort to do this. 57% of Gen Zers prefer to save their money than spend it immediately.
    • In comparison to Gen X, 32% of Gen Zers report putting away enough money in their savings per month to make them feel confident. This compares to 23% of Gen X who report putting away money every month and feeling good about it.
    • Gen Z also saves money by making more frugal choices with their money. Name brands are not as important to them as they are to Millennials or Gen X.
    • Also, unlike Millennials and other generations, Gen Zers are self-directed deal seekers who care little for traditional reward programs and special offers. Using the internet and mobile apps, Gen Zers do pre-purchase research more than any other generation, and are therefore able to get what they want, with less hassle, at a good price.
  • Specifically, in comparison with Millennials, Gen Zers are also on the look-out for more ways to earn money, such as:
    • Online money-making opportunities such as through affiliate marketing, product sales, and banner ads.
    • Negotiating for the best deals in energy bills, insurance products, internet contracts, and wages/salaries. “While many Millennials may just accept and pay the price they are given, Gen Z tries to do their research, compare prices, and negotiate.”
  • Gen Zers are also interested in investing:
    • In a study, 57% of Gen Zers were interested in investing to some degree, and 71% of teens see investing their money in their futures to be a top priority.
    • Gen Z is often more conservative and more risk-averse with their investments than Millennials and other generations that have come before them. They prefer “smaller but more consistent wins and are likely to see their efforts pay off over time.” This well in line with their risk-averse Gen X parents.
    • While Gen Zers have a high affinity for technology, most have rated financial advisors, on average, to be more trustworthy than digital advice based on algorithms, unlike Millennials who prefer digital advisors. However, this is in line with Gen Xers who are more likely to seek out the help of a financial advisor for money management and investment advice.
GLENN TREVOR
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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