COVID-19 Will Define Gen Z And The Next Generation

Photo of a teenage girl lost in thought

My Discussion with Business Insider About the Post-Pandemic Generation

  • COVID-19 will be a key factor in defining the birth year cut-off for Generation Z
  • Every generation is experiencing the impact of COVID-19 differently
  • I believe COVID-19 will be the “Generation Defining Moment” for Gen Z

As a generational researcher and strategist, I am closely researching the impact of COVID-19 on Gen Z. The oldest members of this rapidly-emerging generation are already 24 years old. I am especially focused on how the pandemic will change the attitudes, behaviors, and expectations of this generation. They are at a critical time in their emergence—whether they are 24 years old and out in the world or 12 years old and learning about Google Classroom for the first time.

One discovery is already clear to our generational research team and me: Gen Z will now have a birth year cut-off date of approximately 2015. As I shared with Business Insider recently, “COVID-19 is looking to be the dividing line between Gen Z and the beginning of the next generation.” Those that are about age five and younger—and those who are born after—will not remember COVID-19. Instead, this pandemic it will be something they learn about in history class, on YouTube, or from their parents and grandparents. This difference in experience and memories about the impact, or lack thereof, will separate Gen Z from the generation after it. At CGK, we believe that COVID-19 will be Gen Z’s Generation Defining Moment.

The Coronavirus Will Have a Profound Impact On Gen Z and the Next Generation

Each generation is shaped by key events that forever impact their worldview, beliefs, and expectations. This is true for Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Baby Boomers came of age during the Civil Rights Era while Millennials were profoundly impacted by September 11th and its aftermath. The newest generation, Gen Z, will come of age in a world where virtual classes and restaurant delivery are not just normal, but often the only option, and where businesses and brands completely revamp how they communicate, engage, and market to consumers and potential employees. I write about all of this in my soon-to-be-released book on Gen Z, Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business–and What to Do About It.

COVID-19 is Profoundly Impacting Older Generations Too

Baby Boomers often clearly remember the assassination of President Kennedy or where they were on September 11, 2001. In the same way, Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z who are affected by the coronavirus will remember the event but through the lens of different life stages. The difference between the impact of COVID-19 on Gen Z and other generations is Gen Z’s relative youth. Gen Z is at the moment in their lives where their views and trajectory are being shaped, which makes this pandemic even more impactful for them. It’s also the first major, global event for them, so they do not have a reference point for how to respond or move forward in the way older generations often do. Already, the pandemic has dramatically upended Gen Z’s schooling, mobility, and personal finances. In addition, they face a new reality of being quarantined at home, food shortages at grocery stores, and not being able to get their driver’s license.

For Gen Z specifically, as I told Business Insider, “[High school students] are more worried about their post-graduation plans while [college students] are concerned about job prospects…It’s likely Gen Z will become even more financially risk-averse than they already are and that the pandemic will change how they view work and learning.”

There are myriad ways to examine the effects of this current global crisis on Gen Z and other generations. At The Center for Generational Kinetics, my team and I are continuously leading generational studies nationally and internationally. We uncover the hidden data and drivers that bridge and separate each generation. Right now, we are focused on the impact of COVID-19 on jobs, savings, spending, family, news, and much more across generations.

As I frequently mention in my keynote speeches and virtual presentations, Gen Z is not tech-savvy but tech-dependent. At the moment, we’re studying that dynamic closely—particularly how the quarantine impacts the generation’s sense of place, connection, trust, and collaboration. New dependencies are emerging as the world embraces a reliance on virtual, contactless-everything, stock market volatility, government intervention, and a sea of unknowns relating to education, jobs, and the future.

But Don’t Start Calling Them “Gen C”—At Least Not Yet

Just as Gen Y became more commonly known as Millennials, the generation after Gen Z will be more aptly named when they come of age. To them, the time of COVID-19 will be a history lesson, just as 9/11 is for Gen Z in the U.S. As I discussed with Business Insider, “… ‘the oldest members of the next generation are probably already born, up to four or five years old and using someone’s iPad already,’ their life experience will be shaped by living in a post-pandemic world — not bearing the brunt of the pandemic, as Gen Z is.”

What Can Leaders, Parents, and Marketers Learn Right Now?

As a leader, the pandemic creates a crucial time to take fast, informed action to accurately gain an understanding of how each generation is experiencing and seeking to rebound from this challenging time. Leaders also need to know the exact strategies and tools that work best for a work-from-home scenario as well as to drive sales and marketing goals across generations.

At CGK, my team and I are leading several studies and presenting numerous virtual presentations and executive strategy briefings. These help to fill in the insights gaps around generations and COVID-19 so leaders can make smart, informed decisions to come out of the pandemic with momentum. I’m also incredibly excited about my soon-to-be-released book on Gen Z, Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business–and What to Do About It, which is designed specifically for leaders, marketers, parents, and employers.

Contact my team here to learn how our COVID-19 generational research and strategies can help you and your organization through this period of uncertainty to emerge with momentum.

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