What is it like to be a kid in the 21st century? How will "Gen Alpha" compare to previous generations?
In short, we don't yet know, but their childhood will be almost unrecognizable to adults of older generations. With more dependence on technology, and less emphasis on "going outside," the future promises to be very different from what we are used to today.
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What is a generation?
Generally speaking, with regards to human population demographics, the term generation refers to those children born between two arbitrary date ranges.
According to some dictionaries, like the Cambridge Dictionary, a generation tends to be defined as: "all the people of about the same age within a society or within a particular family:"
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It can also be described as, "the average period, generally considered to be about thirty years, during which children are born and grow up, become adults, and begin to have children of their own."
When it comes to social science, a generation is generally synonymous with a cohort: "people within a delineated population who experience the same significant events within a given period of time."
It is the social sciences definition that we will focus on for the bulk of this article.
What is the age range for Generation Z?
"Generation Z," otherwise known as "Gen Z," is the term given to the group of individuals born after their preceding generation, "The Millenials." Generally speaking, though not always, researchers who use these labels tend to classify this group as those being born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s.
In fact, the online dictionary, dictionary.com defines Gen Z as just that: "[Gen Z] is the name for the generation of children after the millennials, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s."
They, unlike other generations, are characterized as being the generation that has had access to the internet from a very young age. "Gen Z" also tends to be very comfortable with technology as well as social media.
For reference here are the names for the main extant preceding generations. Date ranges tend to vary, but do generally overlap to some extent:
- "Millenials" - Those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s. Other define this generation as anyone born between 1980 and 1994.
- "Generation X" - This generation tends to be defined as those people born between 1965 and 1979.
- "Baby Boomers" - Anyone born post-war which generally ranges between 1946 and 1964. Some simply define it as anyone born between the early 1940s and early 1960s.
- "Silent Generation" - Tends to be defined as those individuals born between 1925 and the end of the second world war.
What is the generation born after 2000 called?
As we have previously seen, generation names tend not to have a definitively agreed upon range of dates. However, that being said, most researchers will agree that the generation you belong to after the year 2000 depends entirely on the year you were born.
If your birth year is pre-2005 you would generally be considered a member of "Gen Z." If post-2005 it is more than likely you'd be grouped under the latest generation, sometimes referred to as "Generation Alpha".
But others put the cutoff for "Generation Z" at 2012. This would mean to be a member of "Gen Alpha" you would need to be born post-2013.
These tend to be the children of "Gen Zs" or late "Millenials." If you want something a little more concrete, you can think of them as the only generation to be born entirely within the 21st Century.
The term was coined by Mark McCrindle, a generational researcher, and consultant in Australia coined the term back in 2005. This is the term that has generally stuck for most concerned parties.
According to digiday.com, here are some interesting facts about the latest generation:
- "Gen Alphas have birth dates starting in 2010, so the majority of this cohort are still sporting diapers, teething or have not even made it to the womb yet.
- The year 2010 was chosen as this was the year both Instagram and the iPad launched.
- McCrindle’s consultancy has predicted that 2.5 million Alphas are born around the world every week.
- The generation will reach a total of 2 billion people worldwide by the time the youngest people are born in 2025."
What is the difference between the older generations and the newer generations?
As each generation is born and matures during different periods in history it is not surprising that they each have their own main characterizing features. This is a product of the technology, socioeconomic and political situations throughout time and their inheritance/resistance to their parent's beliefs and social norms.
At present, there are primarily four main generations who have reached maturity and make up the bulk of any nation's population (we've excluded those within the Silent Generation for obvious reasons).
- "Generation Z";
- "The Millenials";
- "Generation X"; and,
- "The Baby Boomers".
"Baby boomers" tend to be between the ages of 52 and 70 and have, according to sites like thriveglobal.com, the following characteristics:
- Tend to work for the same employer for a long time
- Tend to be process orientated, competitive and goal-centered
- Tend to enjoy working in teams and need to 'feel' valued
- Tend to "live to work"
- Tend to want to make a difference
"Generation X" tends to be between the ages of 37 and 51 and has, according to sites like thriveglobal.com, the following characteristics:
- Tend to crave independence and are eager to learn
- Tend to be more skeptical and adapt to change easily and thrive on it
- Tend to prefer to think globally
- Tend to be focussed on results
- Also, tend to "live to work"
- Tend to believe education is key to success
"Millennials" tend to be between the ages of 22 and 36 and have, according to sites like thriveglobal.com, the following characteristics:
- Tend to be more transparent and like to share
- Tend to thrive with detailed instruction
- Tend to want to make a difference in the world
- Tend to love technology and value diversity
- Tend to resist the traditional work environment
- Tend to believe formal education is expensive but still an important means to an end
"Gen Z" tends to be between the ages of 7 and 21 and has, according to sites like thriveglobal.com, the following characteristics:
- Also, tend to be more transparent
- Tend to be incredibly tech savvy and are more realists
- Tends to be very accepting of others whilst being individualistic
- Tend to prefer to show an entrepreneurial and inventive spirit
- Tend to be competitive and creative
- Tend to be skeptical of the need, and expense, of formal education
Do you recognize any of those characteristics in yourself or your peers? Or do you think they are akin to horoscopes?
What will Generation Alpha be like?
As we have already seen, each generation has its own distinguishing characteristics. This, as we have also discussed, is the product of the times in which they were born and grew up.
Not to mention the beliefs and characteristics of their parent's generation.
Naturally, this leads us to wonder what the newest generation on the block, the so-called "Gen Alphas", is going to be like? As yet the jury is out, but we may be able to make at least some tentative guesses.
Any child born after 2012 is going to experience a world very different to even the last generation. Some. like the OECD, believe it is likely they will be highly competitive and will probably excel in education (if they value it), sports and business.
But, they may also become more risk-averse. According to OECD, never before parents had the ability to contact, and monitor their children like today.
"Children and adolescents are increasingly pushed to do more by “helicopter parents,” overprotective parents who hover over their children to protect them from potential harm. Children are reporting higher levels of stress, and less sleep." says the study.
Whether this will make children less likely to take risks or not is yet to be seen. Technology, whilst also a great tool, will expose children to the effects of things like cyberbullying that would be unthinkable to previous generations.
"Free time to play is decreasing, and there are worries about the reduction of old-fashioned activities (e.g., running around outside) in favor of time spent in front of a computer screen." the study adds.
If you are interested, Wired recently conducted an interview with 10 children, which gives you some insight into how they see the world. It also gives some insights into their ambitions for the future.
The OECD has also noted that 21st Century children also tend to be more obese - a consequence of their more sedentary lifestyle.
"Gen Alpha" and younger members of "Gen Z" are also likely to experience very different circumstances compared to previous generations:
- Non-traditional families are far more common now than ever before. It is not uncommon for same-sex parents to now adopt children, especially after the legalization of same-sex marriage.
- Younger generations may be the first to see a reversal in trends with regards to poverty when compared to other generations. Young adults are currently 60% more likely to be poor than senior generations.
- With both parents now more likely to work than in previous generations, how is this going to impact children during their formative years? Although there have been many initiatives in OECD countries to improve maternity and paternity leave, the effects are yet to be seen.
- "Gen Alpha" and "Gen Z" will probably be more likely to use the internet for their education. Gaming is also likely to become a major part of their social development, and perhaps education, too. They will also be the most tech-savvy of all previous generations.
How will the modern world affect the adults of the future? Whilst the OECD study is interesting, we only really know when the time comes for them to join the workforce.