Generation Z: 8 Characteristics of the Largest Generation of Consumers Ever

Woman looking into the distance

By Tricia McKinnon

Have we stopped talking about millennials and avocado toast yet?  Maybe it’s time to move on as Generation Z is poised to become the largest consumer population in the United States’ history. Generation Z is defined as anyone born after 1997 and the oldest of this cohort are in their early twenties now.  

Gen Zs are hyper connected online, diverse, and have a lot of spending power at their disposal.  They are also mature beyond their years as they take on causes like protecting the environment and balk at brands that lack authenticity. Maybe they will be the generation that makes photo shopped models a thing of the past and body inclusivity the new standard.  Clearly this generation is one that will leave their mark on the world.  Take at eight characteristics that makes this generation different from the ones that have gone before them.

1. Enormous spending power.  In just a few short years, by 2026 there will be 82 million Generation Z consumers, more than any other generation.  Members of this cohort between the ages of 16 and 21 already spend an estimated $143 billion per year.  

Despite all of the time they spend online, where they like to spend their time shopping bears great resemblance to generations before them.  Neil Saunders, an Analyst at GlobalData Retail remarked on this topic by saying: “there’s always been this assumption that as you go through the age spectrum, the younger consumer that has grown up with online and digital and is very savvy would shun physical experiences.” “But actually that’s not turned out to be the case.”  For example, 95% of Gen Zs went to a mall in 2018 vs. 75% of millennials and 58% of Generation X.  75% of Gen Zs surveyed said that going to a mall offers a better experience than shopping online.  Like generations before them, the mall is still the place for to meet up with and spend time with friends.  

2. Diverse and inclusive.   Approximately 48% of Generation Z is nonwhite making this generation the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history. 25% of Gen Zs in the US are Hispanic, 14% are African American and 6% are Asian.  This is the generation that embraces same sex marriage, broader definitions of gender as well as interracial marriage.  Overall, instead of dividing, this generation seeks to unite.  

Graph of diversity by generation

3. Well educated. Generation Z is also more likely than other generations to obtain a college degree. For example, there are more Gen Zs enrolled in college than there were millennials at a similar age. Generation Z is also less likely to drop out of high school. They will likely be the most educated generation in history.

Graph of university enrolment by generation

4. Financially oriented.  This generation could also be named the recession babies as they were children during the Great Recession.  They experienced first-hand their parents struggling financially and they do not want history repeat itself.  They have an appreciation for money and want to set themselves up to be financially secure.  They also like to save their money.

5. Always connected online.  If you think teens are always online you are right. Close to 50% of teens between the ages of 13-17 identify themselves as being online almost constantly.  They spend so much time online that milestones like getting a license that got Gen Xers excited no longer holds the same appeal. There are now fewer 16 year old drivers now during any time period since the 1960s.  Why get a car when you don’t need to?  This is likely a thought echoed by many Gen Zs.  Instead why not use my phone to stay connected instead of travelling to see friends. 

6. Young and lonely.  Take a guess at which generation is the loneliest.  Is it the Greatest Generation, those that are 72 years of age and older?  Is it Gen X? Boomers? The answer is Generation Z.  Despite all of the technology to connect teens with their friends they are lonelier than ever.  According to a study Gen Zs have an average loneliness score that is close to 10 points greater than the Greatest Generation which wins the award for being the least lonely of the them all.  

7. Authentic.  Just keep it real.  This generation not only seeks authenticity it demands it. Forget about the photoshop and show models that look like real people. A study found that 79% of Gen Zs will trust an organization more if the brand uses images that are not photoshopped. This generation is growing up during a body positivity movement.  It isn’t the generation that sees Victoria Secret models as the definition of beauty but instead flock to brands like Aerie which uses models that feel more like a representation of them and their friends.  

8. Activists in training.  This generation has taken on social causes such as protecting the environment at a young age. And not only are they focused on these causes they want companies to be more socially responsible as well.  For example, 90% of Generation Z consumers think that an organization should be responsible for addressing social and environmental causes and would pay more to shop at organizations that are civic minded.  


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