Millennials vs. Generation Z

An interview with Deloitte Germany

Chloe Combi recently did an interview with Deloitte Germany, in conjunction with their big survey on millennials. They were particularly interested in how millennials differ with Generation Z and also what things they had in common! As Chloe is one of the world’s leading experts on Generation Z, she touched on everything from how they interact with brands and respond to marketing to the bigger philosophical questions on how they are responding to the big changes going on in the world. She discussed their hopes and fears and ways we can start helping this next generation (now 32% of the global population), to create a better future.

This interview just skims the surface of what Chloe knows, so if you want to know more about Generation Z and the future, and get in touch.

Chloe Combi interview with Deloitte transcribed in English:

Chloe, you are an expert on Generation Z. What is special about this generation? What differentiates them from Millennials?

There are a lot of differences. Generation Z were born around the millennium, which was a time of enormous change, significantly, the meteoric rise of the internet and its inclusion into every aspect of our lives. As a result, GZ are not just digital natives, but modern digital natives in that they are the first generation to be both the creators and consumers of their own media and many constructs. Social media (YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and to a lesser extent for GZ, Twitter and Facebook) have absolutely dwarfed traditional media (TV, cinema, newspapers, magazines etc.) and the difference is, there are no gatekeepers of social media. The audience are also the creators. Generation Z are able to appoint and make their own stars, leaders and influencers, and they do just that, and therefore they are the ones influencing and creating their own shapes and identities as a generation. This is actually quite revolutionary and is really upending power structures – and companies, brands, organsiations, even political parties have figured out they need to speak this new Gen Z language and seek out their endorsements in GZ’s language and spaces.

In our recent Millennial Survey we found out that globally only 27 percent of the Gen Z claim that they’re satisfied with their life nowadays, in Germany 26 percent. What do you think is it they are unhappy with?

For all this power I mentioned in the previous answer in shaping the world and their own image, there is also enormous disempowerment of young people, and Generation Z in particular. Generation Z were just children when the 2008 global economic crash happened, and we are still bearing the brunt of that. Generation Z will be the first generation financially worse off than their parents and grandparents. There are many job sectors retracting or disappearing completely, which creates anxiety and a huge Darwinian element to everything – in quite literally, you have to be the best to survive, because there isn’t really enough to go around – and this pressure starts extremely young – in some countries, aged four or five, when children are already being tested at school. This means a teenager might have experienced a decade or more of intense parental and societal pressure before they’ve even reached adulthood.

Added to this, the amount of screen time and social media time GZ consume can have also have a real, provable dark side. It is isolating, dislocating, create a sense of dissatisfaction with reality (offline), and can cultivate real anxiety/sense of inadequacy about one’s body/life/successes etc.

The Generation Z seems to be quite pessimistic about the near future: Only 18 percent of the Gen Z think that the situation in their countries will improve in the next 12 months. In Germany the percentage is even lower with 7 percent. Where does this pessimism come from?

The world doesn’t feel very optimistic at the moment, as from Generation Z’s POV, there doesn’t seem to be many grownups in the room, or people working to represent their interests! So many elements to life, but politics in particular has a nasty, infantile, tribal and cruel streak to it, that seeks to isolate, benefit the few rather than the many, and work towards self-interest rather than cooperation. This is discombobulating for young people, who are taught to be kind, share and help, and all those things as small children, but are seeing as young adults, the world behave in the exact opposite way. I think we are in a really flux state at the moment, where all the norms and systems we depended on are being challenged or torn down. Evolution is of course fine, but there is no indication so far, that this is improving things and every indication it is making things unstable and even worse. The best analogy I can think of is Generation Z are like young people witnessing a divorce – but it’s a global one rather than a domestic one!

How do you explain their ambivalent relationship to social media? On the one hand, most of Gen Z know that they’d be happier and healthier without it – on the other hand more than half of our Gen Z respondents would be anxious if they couldn’t check social media for one or two days.

I don’t think it’s ambivalent – that would imply they don’t care about it – which they obviously do very much! I think social media is for lots of us – but GZ in particular (our digital natives!) – is analogous to an addiction. Lots of them know it’s not great for them, and particularly at the volume they consume it at, but once they are in, it’s impossible to give up both for upkeep and the endorphin-rush of getting likes and affirmation! Social media has been very cleverly designed to ensnare you, and it’s done it to the world and GZ and millennials in particular. I get asked a lot about Generation Z’s lack of interest in alcohol and recreational drug-taking, which has statistically significantly dropped with this generation – but I always say that likes and follows are Generation Z’s drug of choice – and that is absolutely case!

What can we expect from Gen Z in the years to come?

I think we’ll see a new wave of old-school online and offline activism, that (hopefully) mirrors the youth activism of previous decades that really helped to institute significant social change. My generation, millennials, I think, got a bit distracted and accustomed to the bright shiny new tools (smartphones, Facebook etc) that became available to them, and thought these were enough to create change. It has become clear that hashtagging, signing petitions, and heartfelt blogging aren’t really enough to make real change happen, and there needs to be real organization, commitment and physical presence. You are seeing this from the Parkland kids in America to the Greta Thunberg-inspired school walkouts across Europe, something quite different growing with Generation Z. They have the platforms, the audience and the voices – and they are starting to use them – outside of the makeup and gaming influencers. This is why I set up the Sixteen Project to really help with this new activism.

The world is going through seismic change, and I think Generation Z feel like older people are making a bit of a hash of it, and they’d like a seat at the table of decision making about what is essentially their future – this is can only be a good thing.

Chloe Combi, Author and Generation Z expert, Thought Laboratories