I’m a Gen Z but I want all that millennials want too – so don’t pigeonhole me

·7-min read
<span>Photograph: Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a Gen Z who watches broadcast television and much prefers Instagram over TikTok.

I’m a 1997 baby and I’ve discovered that talking about my generation, all of us from 1995-2009, is far more complex than portrayals on social media and in the traditional media would have us believe.

On paper, I am a Gen Z, priced out of the housing market, pigeonholed into being addicted to (and likely damaged by) social media, spending too much money on coffee and having high expectations for a fluid nine-to-five and work-life balance. But is this fair?

I think we’re less carefree or more like millennials than some people like to think.

So, how does Gen Z feel? Are we really that different?

Related: The culture war between Gen Z and millennials is on | Arwa Mahdawi

“The world is still set up to reward those who settle down, get married and have children. Millennials are just younger boomers, boomers with tech. They want the same thing, it’s just harder to get,” says Kate, a Gen Z in her mid-20s.

“I think Gen Zs think we’re alternate but we’re not. We say we want different things but deep down, we’re not sure if we have the same goals or whether we’re just worried they’re too unattainable. I thought none of us would be getting married, but tonnes of people our age are.”

While I’m trying to shake off the fear of not being able to afford a house in the future, I have peers pooling money together with partners or parents to buy property now, in their early 20s. Just as there are millennials who have been able to get on the property ladder, people in the same social class might have more in common across generations than they do with people their own age.

Jemima, born in 2001 and five years my junior, still thinks the difference a few years makes within Gen Z is clear.

“For us, we say outright, ‘I don’t need a husband to have kids’, which shocks my grandparents’ generation. Those traditional things aren’t even on our radar,” she says.

Gen Z’s priorities may have shifted, particularly in the wake of Covid. I remain incredulous that my housemate has done much of her first two years of university without stepping on campus, yet manages to bring such vibrancy to Zoom meetings every time. She knows no different.

“Gen Z have graduated during the pandemic, which has impacted our opportunities to travel and our career prospects,” says Evangeline, another Gen Z in her 20s. “We’re craving stability.”

Having a two-year period of pause has meant we find ourselves further away from the happy-go-lucky, increasingly mobile lifestyle we’re becoming synonymous with.

Which brings me to technology.

When I was 16, a harmless, older boomer approached my friend and me in a cafe after school. We were talking and drinking hot chocolate. He stopped by us and said, “Are you feeling OK? It’s just you don’t have your phones out. It’s shocking!”

His generalisation that without our phones we were an anomaly was not actually misplaced. iGen, as we’re also known, is synonymous with technology trends. Covid-induced Zoom domination (for all generations) and TikTok crazes aside, I’ve often been victim to dad jokes about growing muscular thumbs from texting or square eyes from too much screen time. I have schooled my parents on how much harder it was to meet people at university than in their heyday because with heads down and eyes on screens, there is little room for small talk, much less a stolen glance across a room.

Cue my grandparents’ generation being puzzled by online dating and wondering how in your early 20s you haven’t met your husband yet.

But if the last few years have shown us anything, it is that Gen Z are leading the charge to fight back against norms that have existed for too long

The world is changing so rapidly and technology and social media are evolving at such a pace that these predefined generations almost need to be split into five-year blocks. You can’t compare my life experience to someone who is five or 10 years my senior, let alone 10 years my junior.

And this is where TikTok comes in. Prompted by my younger Gen Z flatmate, I downloaded TikTok to tap into the Gen Z v millennial debate I had no idea existed. I fell down a rabbit hole and what did I find out?

I dress like a millennial but I part my hair like a Gen Z. I have a DVD collection (millennial) but I also know who Billie Eilish is (Gen Z). I also wear skinny and baggy jeans – which means I’m well and truly on the cusp. Go figure.

Discussion over who’s worse or who’s who is rife and many of us hope to be the exception to the rule.

“Being on the cusp and not wholly fitting into one or the other, and understanding traits of both generations, makes me feel like there aren’t that many discernible differences between Gen Z and millennials,” says Claire, a Gen Z aghast when I tell her we’re in the same group as those who are just entering their teens. “Don’t put me in the same category as the youths!”

What’s more, Gen Z are condemned for spending money on avocado on toast just like millennials who also like a spot of brunch.

Related: So Gen Z-ers hate millennials now? A handy guide to the generation wars

“My brother, he’s 26, is way more ‘avocado on toast’ than me,” says Kate. “That’s a millennial thing. He spends his money and lives in the moment. But he still wants a house, a wife and two kids.”

Meanwhile, my boomer parents are struck by Gen Z’s greater willingness to change jobs and career paths, and see our work ethic and desire for a work-life balance as a result of our self-orientated, self-care priorities.

From where I stand though, the job market is also harder than ever to get into, with increasing competition and fewer positions, particularly in media and the arts, and the imperative to save money is far greater. Many of the jobs I applied for out of university had hundreds of applicants, with one position going.

Most didn’t dignify your application with a response either. So can we really be accused of not working hard when we have to go through the wringer to get there?

“It is much harder for young people coming through to get their first job in the professional world,” says Claire. “The graduate market is huge but the talent pool companies are accepting is miniscule.

“The paradigm is shifting from a candidate having to sell themselves to an employer, to the employer needing to sell the company as a place where the candidate would want to work.”

But if the last few years have shown us anything, it is that Gen Z are leading the charge to fight back against norms that have existed for too long. We have seen sexual harassment in the workplace brought into the public forum and climate change become a rallying cry in classrooms and the streets.

One 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 becoming normalised, and manipulative behaviours in relationships being treated more seriously than as a token red flag.

So where does this leave me? I want a house, a family and a career. But I’d also like the chance to work from home while overseas or be immersed in a virtual reality Abba concert because technology now knows no bounds.

I’m also eager to work hard for all of it, even if it becomes uncool. See you around in my skinny jeans.

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