Traditionally, every 15 to 20 years a new generation forms in American culture, shaped largely by important world events, the adoption of new technology, and evolving cultural trends. These are the paradigms that produce far-reaching stereotypes about what it means to be a part of Gen X or Y. Despite these over-simplifications, there is an overarching desire on the part of marketers and theorists to try to understand what defines the attitudes, behaviors, and lives of upcoming generations. This desire is now turning towards Generation Z, and the lives of those 18-and-under are set to be the object of unending scrutiny in the coming years.
There are many diverse forces making it difficult to define the face of Gen Z. Overall, America is becoming an increasingly fragmented and complex place, making it difficult to draw concrete takeaways about the next generation. According to The Curve Report, the concept of family is becoming more diverse than ever before, with the nuclear model representing only one-fifth of American households, and alternative lifestyles becoming more widely accepted. All this comes after a decade that 76% of Xers and Ys describe as the “most disruptive of the past century.” The result of this is that Gen Z will be far more diverse on multiple levels than previous generations, and defy traditional forms of categorization.
One aspect of this divergence is that the hyper-connected Gen Z could be, ironically, one of the most isolated generations to date. According to a recent survey from The Curve Report, Gen Y moms were twice as likely as Xers to say they felt isolated in motherhood, despite being incredibly connected—95% of them were active Facebook users. The reason they pointed to is that motherhood is so diversified today that it is just harder to find other moms “like me,” which points to a new form of loneliness emerging from a lack of relatability. The Curve Report findings describe a generation that will have far less in common with their peers than members of the previous generation did and consequently, will have a harder time finding others “like them.” All this adds up to a wide set of highly disparate interests, which will be a new challenge for brands to identify, and appeal to.
Some brands are already responding to the shifting norms they have been told to expect from Gen Z. For example, gender roles may begin to see greater overlap over the next few decades, a fact that has already gained some statistical traction. According to The Curve Report, 85% of X and Y dads say that when it comes to household chores and child care, it’s either an even split with their spouse, or they do the majority of the work themselves. Furthermore, 39% believe there will actually be as many stay-at-home dads than moms by 2050. In response to this, toy makers are launching more gender-neutral revisions to their products as a way to provide more crossover appeal. Among them are Nerf’s hot pink Rebelle line, Lego Friends pastel-colored bricks, and the Barbie Mega Bloks construction set. Although these updates by no means herald complete gender equality, they do mark a shift in the way younger generations will self-identify.
A recent product that demonstrates this is GoldieBlox, a line of girl-geared toys that encourage a love of engineering, science, and inventiveness. Developed by Stanford engineer Debbie Sterling, the toys are meant to function for girls as LEGOs and Erector sets do for boys. To help promote GoldieBlox, the team has recently developed a sensational commercial that takes tinkering to a whole new level. Dubbed the “Princess Machine,” the commercial follows the course of a Rube Goldberg machine created by the girls in the ad, which uses pink, ‘girly’ toys as the cogs and raw materials for the machine. The spot is meant to highlight the engineering potential of young women, and quite effectively works to address outmoded female stereotypes head-on. GoldieBlox demonstrates how brands are reaching out to Generation Z and their parents with new tactics, and reframing how we think about gender norms.
Beyond the gender issue, Gen Z will be faced with a whole new set of privileges and obstacles, including a greatly increased lifespan that will make centenarians commonplace, and a better understanding of and access to all things digital. The Curve Report’s findings point to a generation that will likely have no choice but to forge their own way rather than follow a formula, and will be conditioned to be reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed. This all adds up to a generation that could be the toughest to make generalizations about, and one that actively defies categorization. Looking ahead, time will tell how this generation goes down in history.
For a closer look at what the future holds for Gen Z, be sure to head over to The Curve Report to check out The Z Factor, which takes an in-depth look at how this generation will be unlike any before.