Born between 1995 and 2010, they are "Gen Z". This generation, currently between 11 and 26 years old, does in fact have some stand-out features. Let's take a look.
First of all, there are demographic factors. According to generational researcher and psychologist Rüdiger Maas, it's regarded as the smallest age cohort in modern times, having around 4.6 million fewer people than Generation X, which is made up of people born between 1965 and 1979. This also has an impact on the financial situation, as you will see below.
Smartphones and tablets, TikTok and Instagram: Gen Z is made up of true “digital natives”. They neither know nor can they even imagine everyday life without modern technologies and digital media. Since they were children, the analogue and digital worlds have been inextricably fused. “More than 99% of Gen Z have a smartphone. It's never been the case in the history of mankind that just about everyone a similar device that they spend four to six hours a day occupied with,” says Rüdiger Maas. With the potential to be online every second of the day, today’s young generation is also referred to as “zoomers”, “Generation always on” or the “iGeneration.” Digitalisation also helps youngsters to connect with people from every continent, their environments and their opinions in just a few clicks.
Digital life brings a wealth of information and content to the life of Gen Z. Social media also makes it possible to produce your own content, set your own topics and quickly achieve reach. As with all situations in life, risks and opportunities go hand in hand: constant availability versus rapid networking; a high influx of stimuli versus a readily accessible wealth of information; the pressure to promote yourself versus opportunities for creative self-expression.
Another demographic factor is the relative prosperity into which these young people were born. “Before the coronavirus, we had full employment, which means that Generation Z would not have had to do without anything,” says Rüdiger Maas. This, together with the relatively low head count of Gen Z, has an impact on their values, sense of status and professional life: “When over four million more people retire than enter the world of work, that makes it easy for me on the job market.”
This brings us to another focus in life: long-standing loyalty to a job, full-time employment and a steep career path are of much less importance to Gen Z than to previous generations; greater importance has been attached to having enough free time, a good work-life balance and clearly defined working hours. Working overtime in the evenings or even at weekends no longer has any place in the perception of the ideal career. “People want clear structures that are consistently adhered to,” says Maas. That’s why options such as working from home or flexible working hours are no longer so popular. The “Junge Deutsche 2021” (“Young Germans 2021”) study by youth researcher Simon Schnetzer shows that 44% of the young generation see fun as their greatest motivation for achievement rather than money or prestige. Simon Schnetzer also adds that Gen Z, and even Gen Y, have to perform many more activities in their everyday lives than previous generations – “even if it only feels like that.” That’s why part-time jobs are the new ideal for many young people. The importance of having a stellar career has given way to individual needs and self-development; big money and leadership positions count for less than a meaningful job and a good working atmosphere.
Generally speaking, these new circumstances and opportunities have led to a shift in the value system. Friends, free time and a focus on family are very important to Gen Z. According to Rüdiger Maas, Gen Z is very much characterised as a collective: “You’re entering the mainstream and have much less need to differentiate yourself from your younger or older colleagues.” This generation’s desires for the future are actually very down-to-earth: “family, children, health, home and enough money,” according to Simon Schnetzer. His study revealed trust, health and freedom to be the most important values.
Other values are also prevalent, however: “Gen Z has high moral standards with regard to liberalism, equality and sustainability,” says Maas. Although sustainability is an ambivalent value when lived out in practice. Simon Schnetzer comments that Gen Z is much more committed to environmental sustainability in terms of their eating habits for example. Some status symbols, such as having a flashy car, have generally become obsolete, but others are still important: “They may preach going without, yet they have to get their hands on the latest iPhone and Apple Watch,” Rüdiger Maas observes. When it comes to sustainability, he notes a gap between attitudes and behaviour. “Gen Z streams a lot, regularly buys new clothes and lives in conditions of luxury unknown to any previous generation. They want to see a change of thinking in sustainability policy but without actually making any sacrifices themselves.”
The reduction in ownership or the sharing economy offered by Mobility is therefore already old hat for Gen Z. Why? “Because they grew up in prosperity, never having to share, do without or wait for something,” says Maas. Gen Y, on the other hand, is more interested in these topics: “They realised that you can do more with what you already have – for example in the form of car sharing, AirBnB, etc.,” he explains.
But what also makes Gen Z special is that it’s more political and activist than its predecessor generation. Issues such as strengthening the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, equality and certain environmental topics are very popular, as demonstrated by the #metoo movement and “Fridays for Future” – which has led to Gen Z being called “Generation Greta.” The dream of a better world exists. And digital networking offers more and faster ways of starting something and reaching out to others.