“Move over, Millennials. A new generation is here.” – Sean McDowell, Ph.D. Biola University College Professor

To suggest that a generation of young adults now in their mid-20’s and 30’s is becoming socially irrelevant may seem somewhat rash but the Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1994, are being moved over by an even younger population; many of whom are still adolescents and teenagers. 

Introducing Generation Z, or as it has become better known: the iGen generation. 

The more than 90 million young people born between 1995 and 2012 comprise the most important generation in history in terms of size and impact. A report from 99firms.com, a consulting firm specializing in online marketing, said that American I’Gen’ers will account for 40 percent of the nation’s consumers by 2020.  

Not only has iGen become the largest social cohort, outnumbering Millennials and Baby Boomers, it is also the most ethnically diverse generation, compared to its predecessors.  Psychology Professor Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University, who coined the iGen name in her 2006 book, Generation Me, noted in her 2017 sequel, iGEN, that one in four is Hispanic and nearly 1 of 20 is multiracial. Non-Hispanic whites had occupied a slim 53 percent majority of that group in its earlier years; however, that percentage falls to under 50 percent beginning with iGen’ers born as of late 2009.  “That means no one group is in the majority…” she writes, adding that the generation after iGen — those born beginning in 2013 and thus far branded “Gen Alpha” will be the first majority nonwhite generation.

Technology has become iGen’s first, middle and last name.

The differences between iGen’ers and their social elders, however, go far beyond race and ethnicity.  Most evident is the fact they’ve had massive exposure to technology; so much so they are commonly referred to as the “first digital natives” since they’ve lived in a digital environment since birth. As a result of the web revolution of the 1990s, they’ve had access to an unprecedented amount of information on the internet – a tool they’ve never been without. Add to that the number of 2.47 million apps available on Android devices and 1.8 million available to iPhone users. According to a 2018 story in GeekWire, 95 percent of American teenagers own or have access to smartphones and nearly half of the, 48 percent, say they’re online “almost constantly.”

What makes iGen’ers different?

Dr. Twenge lists several characteristics of iGen’ers that differentiate them from their parents and older siblings. A partial list that follows shows that iGen’ers typically are …

  • much more tolerant of others, different races and cultures, sexual orientations;
  • more cautious and averse to taking risks; 
  • growing up more slowly, not wanting to be on their own;
  • aware and concerned about an economy shaped by income inequality;
  • less likely to drink alcohol or take drugs in high school;
  • less likely to attend church;
  • more likely to think for themselves and not believe authority figures in church or government;
  • delaying having serious romantic relationships;
  • experiencing fewer teen pregnancies; 
  • spending less time in shopping malls;
  • less likely to go see a movie;
  • not inclined as much to run away from home;
  • not all that interested in getting a driver’s license right away (one of four iGen’ers do not have a license by the time they graduate from high school);
  • less interested in face-to-face contact with others, preferring instead to connect via smartphones;
  • less interested in reading books, magazines or newspapers; 
  • spending more time playing computer games
  • less experienced in having an after-school or summer job and earning money while in high school;
  • feeling more depressed than those in prior generations;
  • feeling lonely and not needed;
  • susceptible to higher suicide rates;
  • more supervised and protected while growing up; 
  • spending enormous amounts of time using social media and smart phones; sometimes well into the early hours of the morning; and,
  • more conservative politically and less interested in identifying with a political party. (18- to 29-year-old voters are now a larger percentage of all voters than those over 65.)

A few more facts about iGen’ers…

A 99firms.com article identified several other marketing and cultural traits of iGen’ers as consumers:

    • U.S. iGen’ers hold $44 billion in buying power, causing 65 percent of U.S. retailers to increase and focus their marketing budgets because of that impact.
    • Nearly half of U.S. iGen’ers are members of ethnic minorities 
    • They are twice as likely to shop on mobile devices than Millennials, their predecessors.
    • Facebook usage among U.S. teens declined from 71 percent in 2014 to 51 percent in 2018. Instagram and YouTube are now the most popular social media platforms for iGen’ers.
    • Nearly 4 out of 10 iGen’ers say social media affects their self-esteem.
    • Three out of four iGen’ers do not consider college the only path to a strong education.

How iGen’ers prefer to learn

Referring to a Barnes and Noble College study showing that today’s students refuse to be passive learners. They are not interested in showing up for class, sitting through a lecture and taking notes that they’ll need to memorize for a later exam. Instead, they expect to be fully engaged and to be a part of the learning process themselves.

These students tend to thrive when they are given the opportunity to have a fully immersive educational experience and they even enjoy the challenges of being a part of it. For example, the study showed that 51 percent of those students surveyed said they learn best by doing while only 12 percent said they learn through listening.  These same students also said they tend to enjoy class discussions and interactive classroom environments over the traditional dissemination method.

The study further showed that “…the preference towards a collaborative learning environment is not limited to in-person interactions. Instead, iGen’ers are completely comfortable with learning alongside other students, even outside their own school, using digital tools such as Skype and online forums. Furthermore, these students expect these learning tools to be available on demand and with lower barriers to access.  “For them, learning isn’t limited to just the classroom; it’s something that can take place at anytime, anywhere.” 

Despite their social and cultural preferences and love of new technologies, there are i-Gen’ers who also prefer to add the traditional concepts of leadership and character development to their education. For example, the iGen’ers who attend the Army and Navy Academy, a college preparatory boarding school for middle- and high school-age boys, in Carlsbad, Calif. learn leadership and character development principles alongside a robust academic curriculum.

So, what lies ahead for IGen’ers?

At the end of her iGEN book, Dr. Twenge writes that iGen’ers “are scared, maybe even terrified. Growing up slowly, raised to value safety and frightened by the implications of income inequality, they have come to adolescence in a time when their primary social activity is staring at a small rectangular screen … The devices they hold in their hands have both extended their childhoods and isolated them from true human interaction. As a result, they are both the physically safest generation and most mentally fragile…If they can shake themselves free of the constant clutch of their phones and shrug off the heavy cloak of their fear, they can still fly. And the rest of us will be there, cheering them on.”