All Hail ‘The Founders’
At long last, a name for the generation after Millennials
With civilization in flames and popular culture disrupted beyond recognition, the world is looking to a new generation to rebuild it. Enter “The Founders.” According to a new nationwide survey conducted by MTV, the children of the new millennium will rescue the world from the sins of the past, and befitting this worthy mission, they get maybe the most self-important name imaginable. Yes, the spirit of MTV’s new project is well-meaning and intended to capture the diversity of the country’s youngsters. But the report goes a step further to paint a bleak picture of the present, and saddles the next generation with the task of “founding the new world.” No pressure, kids.
The name “The Founders” comes from the kids themselves, according to MTV’s survey of more than 1,000 respondents born after the year 2000. America is still reckoning with Millennials (loosely classified as those born from the mid-1980s to the late-’90s) one thinkpiece at a time, but according to this survey, their fate is already sealed. As the children of indulgent baby boomers, Millennials are classified as “dreamers” who live to disrupt and challenge established norms. The Founders, by contrast, are “pragmatists” who will navigate a tougher world defined by 9/11, the financial crisis, and gender fluidity. Previous generations had to worry about getting into college and finding a job, but the next one is tasked with cleaning up their mess.
Classifying a generation’s personality and goals is tough no matter what era you’re looking at, but it’s particularly absurd when you’re interviewing a bunch of kids who have just entered high school. Their youth is almost certainly a factor in their optimism—according to MTV’s press release, among the names considered were “The Bridge Generation,” “The Builder Generation,” and “The Regenerator Generation.”
One thing “The Founders” have in common with other generations? They’re reacting to those who came before. The terms “Baby Boomer,” “Generation X-er,” and “Millennial” have all become pejoratives, though the MTV survey’s description of the latter is particularly rough. Millennials’ celebrity icon?Miley Cyrus, who “pushed back against Disney’s model” of fame.Their defining movie?High School Musical, which “disrupted the model of cliques” (a phenomenon previously unseen on screen, apparently). What’s more, Millennials are defined by the video game The Sims, building houses “within the templates” of society. The Founders, meanwhile, live in the world of Minecraft, where regular laws of physics don’t apply and all the building has to be done by hand. The implication being that they’re going to make a different society, cube by pixilated cube. Their pop-culture heroes are YouTube stars and Vine comedians, ordinary folk finding fame in the democratic moray of the world wide web.
Time is already pointing out that generations don’t usually get to name themselves. It’s a task that has previously fallen to luminaries like Gertrude Stein (credited for “The Lost Generation”), Tom Brokaw (“The Greatest Generation”), and Douglas Coupland, whose book Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture helped popularize the phrase. But some have already noted the irony of MTV attempting to label a generation of kids who favor mobile devices and who probably never knew MTV was originally a music network.“It’s a ridiculously overstated attempt by MTV to define a generational boundary,” noted Don Kaplan for the New York Daily News. “And it comes off more … like a bid to advance the network’s own self-promotional agenda.”
Until now, the only associations I had with “The Founders” were America’s Founding Fathers, and the villains of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who were fascist shapeshifters from a distant corner of the galaxy. Will MTV’s name stick? It’s unlikely. The laziest moniker that has been bandied about is “Generation Z,” a reference to the fact that these are the children of Generation X. The term “iGeneration” is almost as bland, but at least acknowledges the crucial difference for this age group—that they never knew a world without the Internet. Either way, the impulse to explain exactly who these kids are and what they want feels premature. Let them at least reach voting age before we start wrapping them up in a shiny generational package.
GEN Z AND IGEN QUESTIONS ANSWERED
What is the name for the generation born after Millennials: Gen Z, iGen, Centennials, or something else?
Generation names often change as a generation comes of age and different characteristics or events come to define them. Often, what a generation is called early on is not what ends up sticking. For example, Generation Y morphed into Millennials, yet it’s the exact same generation. At The Center for Generational Kinetics, we call the generation after Millennials "Gen Z or iGen.” This corresponds with our research defining them as cloud natives rather than digital natives; their world is “iEverything,” with a lowercase “i.” Other popular names for this fast-emerging generation are Generation Z and Centennials. It will be interesting to see which name sticks as the generation emerges.
What are the birth years for Gen Z and iGen (aka “the generation after Millennials”)?
At The Center, we define the birth years for iGen as being 1996 to the present. The reason that Gen Z definitively starts at 1996—and not 2000, as many people (often non-researchers) claim—is that the last, most important defining moment for Millennials was September 11, 2001. Those born from 1996 onward do not remember September 11, 2001. If you don’t remember 9/11, then you are NOT a Millennial, but a member of the generation after Millennials: iGen or Gen Z. Yes, we are pretty passionate about this answer, because the question is so often answered incorrectly.
How large is Gen Z (aka iGen or Centennials)?
There are currently over 23 million Gen Z in the United States. Within the next five years, they will become the fastest-growing generation in both the workplace and the marketplace.
What are the most defining characteristics of the Gen Z generation?
As Gen Z members are still largely kids and adolescents, many of their adult characteristics are yet to be vetted. Early indications are that they are increasingly self-aware, self-reliant, innovative and goal-oriented. They also appear to be more pragmatic than their Millennial predecessors, but we’ll have to wait and see if that plays out as they become employees, consumers, investors and voters.
One key difference from Millennials: Most members of iGen or Gen Z don’t remember a time before social media. As a result, they tend to live much more of their entire lives—from interacting with friends and family to making major purchases—online and via their smartphones. This could have profound implications for everything from their relationships and how they learn to virtual reality training and problem-solving.
What are three things about Gen Z and iGen that most people don’t know?
Gen Z are highly educated.It’s likely that a larger percentage of Gen Z will attend and graduate from college than any previous generation, including the Millennials. Gen Z is also adept at web-based research and often self-educates with online sources such as YouTube and Pinterest. They can learn complex things like how to upgrade your computer’s operating system the same way they can learn how to bake a vegan apple pie: one video at a time. They still possess general knowledge about traditional research methods, but they have come of age placing a priority on how fast you can find the right information rather than on whether or not you know the right information.
Gen Z wants to make a difference in the world.A large portion of the generation would prefer to have a job that makes a positive impact in some way, and a large portion of them volunteer. However, it’s unclear what impact school-based volunteer requirements are having on volunteer rates among iGen. What we do know is that an overwhelming majority of iGen and Gen Z are eco-conscious and concerned about humanity’s impact on the environment. We also know that iGen wants to make a decent living with a stable employer. This practical aspect of financial prudence and wanting to help people could lead to longer-term differentiation from Millennials.
Gen Z are more diverse than Millennials.This is a big deal and is often overlooked. The tremendous diversity that Gen Z brings as employees, consumers and entrepreneurs will have a profound impact across generations and cultures. Brands and employers will have to learn how to see the world through the diverse eyes of Gen Z if they want to win their loyalty.
Which mobile apps does iGen favor most?
While Millennials and Gen Z still favor Facebook in terms of total usage, Gen Z views Facebook as being for “older generations.” As Gen Z gets more digital freedom, they appear to prefer more peer-to-peer social media and messaging apps, such as Snapchat, Vine and Instagram. They might even have an anonymous or fake Instagram account so they can share their experiences without fear of online reputation repercussions. In fact, a recent study showed that nearly 25% of 13- to 17-year-olds left Facebook this year! This shows a trend toward apps that are more instantaneous, use less personal information and are more visually appealing to users.
What will iGen and Gen Z be like as employees in the workplace?
To say that this generation will be hooked to their smartphones at work is an understatement. Gen Z’s future supervisors and managers will have to know that leaving their cell phone at home—or even leaving it in a drawer—is simply not an option for this new generation. One area that we’re exploring at The Center for Generational Kinetics is whether or not iGen’s pragmatism carries over into how they approach work. Will they accept lower-paying jobs to get a foothold in a career or hold out hoping for something better to come along? One thing we do know is that teenage summer employment is at historically low rates, so early job experience is not taking shape for iGen the way it once did—even compared to Millennials.
What are some of the defining moments of the Gen Z generation?
Given that iGen and Gen Z are about age 20 and under, their defining moments are still happening! Key things that we know have affected them as a generation include the Great Recession impacting their parents, student loan debt becoming a crisis in America, the Affordable Care Act becoming law, growing up with an African-American US president, gay marriage becoming legal, medical marijuana becoming legal in many states and the fact that there have “always” been twentysomething entrepreneurs who are billionaires. In addition, social media has always existed for them, Baby Boomers are their grandparents rather than their parents, and they think Millennials are old.
Who are the parents of iGen and Gen Z?
The parents of Gen Z and iGen are primarily Generation X and Millennials. This marks a huge shift in the behaviors we expect to see as iGen grows up. While Baby Boomers were known for being helicopter parents and raising their kids with an approach often summarized as “We want it to be easier for our kids than it was for us,” we believe Generation X and Millennials will raise their kids with more of a “Figure it out” approach. Of course, only time will reveal the true parenting approaches of Generation X and Millennials, but we are confident that the outcome will be very different than what Millennials experienced from their Baby Boomer parents. We also know that Baby Boomer grandparents will likely do everything they can to continue to make life easier for their iGen grandkids!
Will Gen Z really be that different from Millennials and Gen Y?
Yes! Gen Z is being raised differently than Millennials were, which should have some pronounced effects on their views and approach to being employees, customers and citizens. Gen Z also has a different experience with technology than Millennials, which will affect every area of their life—from healthcare and dating to education and shopping. What is most interesting is that what worked for Millennials does not seem to be working as well with iGen, and this creates tremendous challenges and opportunities for organizations of all sizes and in all industries. The key differentiator between failure and success is getting accurate data about iGen early so leaders can adapt. The Center specializes in iGen research that provides marketers, executives and employers with new strategies and research-based tactics to make the most of this emerging generation.
The differences and similarities between iGen and Millennials will be expressed over time, but the one thing we know is that we’ll have more data on iGen than on any generation in history!