I’m Gen Z, But I Also Want Everything Millennials Want – So Don’t Label Me | Maddie Thomas
Call me old fashioned, but I’m a TV-watching Gen Z and much prefer Instagram to TikTok.
I’m a 1997 baby and I’ve found that talking about my generation, all of us from 1995 to 2009, is much more complex than portrayals on social media and in mainstream media would have us believe.
On paper, I’m Gen Z, out of the housing market, locked into an addiction (and probably damaged by) social media, spending too much money on coffee, and having high expectations for a smooth nine-to-five and work-life balance. But is it fair?
I think we’re less carefree or closer to millennials than some people like to think.
So, how is Gen Z feeling? Are we really that different?
“The world is still designed to reward those who settle down, marry and have children. Millennials are just younger baby boomers, baby boomers with technology. They want the same thing, it’s just harder to get,” says Kate, a Gen Z in her mid-20s.
“I think Gen Z thinks we’re substitutes, but we’re not. We say we want different things but deep down we don’t know if we have the same goals or if we just fear they are too unattainable. I thought none of us would get married, but tons of people our age are.
As I try to get rid of the fear of not being able to afford a house in the future, I have peers pooling money with partners or relatives to buy property now, at the early twenties. Just as there are millennials who were able to climb the property ladder, people of the same social class may have more in common across generations than they have with people their own age.
Jemima, born in 2001 and five years my junior, still thinks the difference a few years make in Gen Z is clear.
“For us, we say bluntly: ‘I don’t need a husband to have children’, which shocks the generation of my grandparents. These traditional things aren’t even on our radar,” she says.
Gen Z’s priorities may have changed, especially in the wake of Covid. I remain in disbelief that my roommate did much of her first two years of college without entering campus, yet manages to bring such vibrancy to Zoom meetings every time. She knows no different.
“Gen Z graduated during the pandemic, which impacted our travel opportunities and career prospects,” says Evangeline, another Gen Z in her twenties. “We crave stability.”
After a two-year hiatus, we have moved away from the carefree and increasingly mobile lifestyle we have become synonymous with.
Which brings me to technology.
When I was 16, an older, harmless baby boomer approached my friend and I at a cafe after school. We were talking and drinking hot chocolate. He stopped by us and said, “Are you feeling okay? It’s just that you haven’t taken out your phones. It’s shocking !
His generalization that without our phones we were an anomaly wasn’t really out of place. iGen, as we are also known, is synonymous with technology trends. Covid-induced Zoom dominance (for all generations) and TikTok craziness aside, I’ve often been the victim of dad jokes about growing muscle thumbs from texting or square eyes from too many screen time. I taught my parents how much harder it was to meet people in college than in their prime, because with your head down and your eyes on the screens, there’s little room for small talk, much less for a stolen look across a room.
My grandparents’ generation is intrigued by online dating and wondering how in your early twenties you haven’t met your husband yet.
The world is changing so rapidly and technology and social media are evolving at such a pace that these predefined generations almost have to be split into five-year blocks. You cannot compare my life experience to someone who is five or 10 years my senior, let alone 10 years my junior.
And that’s where TikTok comes in. Invited by my young Gen Z roommate, I downloaded TikTok to tap into the millennial Gen Z v debate that I had no idea existed. I fell down a rabbit hole and what did I find?
I dress like a millennial but part my hair like a Gen Z. I have a (millennial) DVD collection but I also know who Billie Eilish (Gen Z) is. I also wear skinny jeans and baggy jeans – which means I’m well and truly about to. Go figure.
Discussion about who is worse or who is rampant and many of us hope to be the exception to the rule.
“Being on the cutting edge and not quite fitting into one or the other, and understanding the traits of both generations, makes me feel like there aren’t a lot of discernible differences between Gen Z and Gen Y,” Claire says, a Gen Zer aghast when I tell her we’re in the same group as those just entering adolescence. “Don’t put me in the same category as young people!
Plus, Gen Z is doomed for spending money on avocado on toast, as is Gen Y who also loves a brunch.
“My brother, he’s 26, is a lot more ‘avocado on toast’ than me,” Kate says. “It’s a millennial thing. He spends his money and lives in the moment. But he still wants a house, a wife and two children.
Meanwhile, my baby boomer parents are struck by Gen Z’s greater willingness to change jobs and career paths, and see our work ethic and desire for work-life balance due of our self-directed and self-care priorities.
From my point of view, the labor market is also harder than ever to enter, with increasing competition and fewer positions, especially in the media and the arts, and the imperative to save money is very bigger. Many of the jobs I applied for outside of college had hundreds of applicants, including just one.
Most haven’t honored your application with a response either. So can you really be accused of not working hard when you have to go through the wringer to get there?
“It is much more difficult for young people who arrive to get their first job in the professional world”, explains Claire. “The market for graduates is huge, but the pool of talent companies accept is tiny.
“The paradigm shifts from a candidate having to sell themselves to an employer, to an employer having to sell the company as a place where the candidate would want to work.”
But if the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that Gen Z is leading the charge to fight norms that have been around for far too long. We have seen sexual harassment in the workplace brought to the public square and climate change become a rallying cry in classrooms and on the streets.
A TikTok claims that millennials may have thought they were progressive by campaigning for gay marriage, but for Gen Z, sexuality is fluid, so we win. Mental health is more openly discussed, with disorders such as anxiety and depression normalizing and manipulative behaviors in relationships being treated more seriously than as a token red flag.
So where does this take me? I want a home, a family and a career. But I would also love the chance to work from home overseas or be immersed in an Abba concert in virtual reality, because technology knows no bounds anymore.
I also look forward to working hard for it all, even if it gets uncool. See you soon in my skinny jeans.