Millennials loved their brands when they were teens. Gen Zs don't really care.

Millennials loved their brands when they were teens. Gen Zs don’t really care.
Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
  • Gen Zs believe themselves to be social justice-minded and more dependent on technology than millennials.
  • Marketers have noticed that this generational cohort isn’t as brand-conscious as their peers, and they’re much more frugal.

My first memory ever is using dial-up internet (I think I was interested in the weird sounds), my parents are Baby Boomers, and I lived at least half of my life without the conveniences of mobile internet.

In other words, I’m a millennial.

Millennials have been framed as selfish, “psychologically scarred,” in constant need of validation, and killing several industries, from casual dining to (perhaps worst of all) bar soap.

But now it’s time for a new generation to take the spotlight – and the heat: Generation Z, or all Americans born after 1997, are the newest generation.

As I’ve reported on this emerging generation and talked to Gen Zs nationwide, I’ve been struck by the differences this cohort has in comparison to myself and my fellow millennials.

And marketers and teens alike have been happy to highlight the differences. Here’s what they say sets these two generations apart:

Millennials spent much of their childhoods without social media or smartphones

Facebook didn’t start to become ubiquitous until 2008. The first iPhone was invented in 2007.

As a result, many millennials spent their childhoods without cell phones and depending on the family desktop computer.

The oldest millennials, who were born in the early 1980s, even made it to college using dial-up internet, using actual floppy disks, and cassette players.

As a younger millennial, I remember the transition from CDs to iPods and being flabbergasted as a teen by my first cell phone that could connect to the internet.

Gen Zs don’t know a world before mobile technology

By 2000, the majority of American homes had at least one computer. Even though many millennials grew up using the internet, it was probably with the sole family desktop computer.

But, thanks to mobile internet, Gen Zs have computers in their pockets. They’re able to be online constantly in a way that millennials never were in their youth.

The majority of teens told Business Insider that technology is what sets them apart from millennials.

  • “For Gen Z, this tech is all we ever knew about and has been in our lives since we were babies.” – New York resident Isabel Lagando, 14
  • “Everything in our generation is immediate. Since we have been raised in an age where texts and messages can be sent in the blink of an eye, we are less patient than other generations because we are used to having instant gratification.” – North Carolina resident Margaret Bolt, 15
  • “We communicate through social media and texts, which changes the dynamic of communication.” – Virginia resident Maddie Martin, 19

Millennials mostly grew up during healthy economic times, but are now poorer than their parents

Lyubov Levitskaya/Shutterstock

Less than half of millennials think they’re better of than their parents were at their age, compared to 55% of baby boomers, according to the Urban Institute.

Millennials who graduated in the late 2000s and early 2010s encountered a depressed job market, and many also owed tens of thousands in student loans during their 20s and 30s.

Still, they’re notorious for being overly-optimistic despite their heady economic circumstances. That might be because they grew up during economic prosperity.

“Millennials were an optimistic generation that’s often seen as being pandered to by parents and adults in their lives,” Salesforce reports.

Gen Zs grew up learning how to be frugal

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While Millennials were able to go through their childhoods without giving much thought to the then-healthy economy, teenaged Gen Zs are already concerned about it.

In a recent Business Insider survey on Generation Z, nearly 10% of teens said the No. 1 issue that their generation will have to face relates to the economy and debt.

That’s likely because their childhoods were marked by the Great Recession. The oldest Gen Zs, who were born in 1997, were nine years old when the Recession hit in 2008.

“Growing up during the global financial crisis, Gen Zers are realistic and mindful of financial issues and future career from a younger age,” An Hodgson, an income and expenditure manager at Euromonitor International, previously told Business Insider.

Millennials were more likely to work a traditional teen job

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In 2005, when many millennials were in high school, 53% of teens had a summer job.

The most common jobs for teens in 2005 were in food preparation and serving, sales, and office support, according to a 2007 study from the University of Washington.

Gen Zs are more likely to earn money from a “side hustle”

Jessica Vu/YouTube

In 2016, 43% of teens had a summer job. That’s down from 54% in 2006 and 65% in 1996.

Instead, they’re busy studying or on a side hustle.

According to one study by Harvard Business Review, around 70% of teens are self-employed – teaching piano, making money off a YouTube channel, or creative ways of making a buck.

Gen Z is more connected to interests and cultures around the world than Millennials were in their teens

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

“Geographic location is not a problem and does not define who we are,” North Carolina resident Jogle De León, 17, told Business Insider. “Asian cultures, like anime and K-pop, is becoming more and more popular among Gen Z.”

Content from outside the US is increasingly normal for Gen Zs to enjoy. That’s again thanks to social media.

Skam, a Norwegian teen drama series, became popular in the States after fan-run Twitter and YouTube popularized the series.

And the latest album from K-pop boy band BTS hit No. 1 on Billboard Magazine’s music charts – largely thanks to their dedicated global fan base.

“They’re very used to consuming entertainment that has come from other parts of the world,” MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer at YPulse, a research and marketing firm focused on Gen Z and millennials, told Business Insider.

Millennials tended to believe that a college education was worth it, even if it meant student debt

University for the Creative Arts/Flickr

In 2010, the amount of high school graduates going to college peaked, reaching 74%.

But nearly three-quarters of college students graduate with debt. The average student loan borrower from the class of 2015 (among the youngest millennials) owed $34,000, up from an average of $20,000 a decade before.

It’s part of what New York Times arts editor M.H. Miller described in an essay as a “well-meaning but misguided” belief among baby boomer parents that a good college education, no matter the cost, was the secret for success.

“Neither of my parents received an elite education but they nevertheless believed that an expensive school was not a materialistic waste of money; it was the key to a better life than the one they had,” Miller wrote in The Baffler.

Gen Zs are wary of student loans

Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design/Flickr/Attribution

The numbers on how many Gen Zs are opting to skip college after high school graduation aren’t available yet, but many Zs expressed to Business Insider that they’re worried about college debt.

Analysts said that’s affected how they choose where to go to college.

“Generation Z is intentionally choosing to attend a less-expensive college so they can graduate with less debt,” Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, told Mic in 2017.

“No or less debt means they can enter the job force with more mobility, allowing them to take a job they really want that may pay less, because a good amount of their salary won’t be going to a college fund.”

Some are reconsidering college altogether, according to a report on Gen Z trends by AwesomenessTV.

Tiffany Zhong postponed enrollment at and dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley, becoming an 18-year-old venture capitalist and then founder of Gen Z consumer intelligence platform Zebra IQ.

“Why sink yourself into exorbitant amounts of debt when you can learn everything online or learn a specific subject matter at a fraction of the price?” Zhong told Business Insider.

Millennials love their brands

Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Thanks again to that healthy economy, millennials with means used to spend a lot on teen brands like Abercrombie, Hollister, and American Apparel.

“There was a time when young people aspired to wear flashy labels conspicuously: Think the enormous polo player logo on Ralph Lauren shirts or the prominent label on Calvin Klein jeans,” Elizabeth Segran wrote in Fast Company.

Gen Zs are more about showing off their individuality

Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

With the exception of those obsessed with Supreme and other streetwear names, brand loyalty is not so common among today’s teens.

“They’re less brand-conscious and they are not spending as much as millennials do,” Kyle Andrew, chief marketing officer of American Eagle Outfitters, told Fast Company.

, Gen Zs prefer trends that can be shown off on social media – like unicorn makeup and patches and t-shirts with political slogans.

Simply bragging that they’re able to afford a certain brand isn’t as interesting to today’s teens as showing off their individual personality.

Many millennials supported marriage equality and Barack Obama, but they tended to be averse to political parties

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

College students in 2006 and 2007 were engaged in volunteering and local politics, but they felt ambivalent about the national media and federal government, a 2007 study by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) found.

Though of voting age, many of these students didn’t have a party affiliation.

“They do not like the competitive and confrontational atmosphere created by the parties and many do not seem to want their beliefs and identity limited by party affiliation,” according to the CIRCLE report. “Many have not developed opinions quite yet, and this may factor into their aversion to political parties.”

But, young voters did help determine the historic election of Barack Obama in 2008. Millennials were also the first generation to overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage.

Gen Zs tend to be more social justice-oriented than Millennials


“Millennials helped elect a black president and legalize gay marriage; many generation Zers see these milestones as the norm,” wrote Segran in Fast Company.

Gen Zs told Business Insider that millennials and previous generations aren’t as social justice-minded as their cohort.

That’s likely because many of the advances, like gay marriage, from previous decades seem obvious to them.

But they’re also much more involved in organizing and expressing their viewpoints on race relations, gender inequality, LGBTQ rights, and other identity issues, according to a trend report by AwesomenessTV.

  • “Honestly, social injustices are going to be a really big thing throughout my lifetime. Many things are being brought to light and I don’t see them going away any time soon.” – North Carolina resident Trent Couse, 17
  • “The biggest hurdle for my generation, will be the environment and the polarization of political parties currently. In terms of polarized political parties, my generation will have to navigate a world that is trying to be black and white, but really has so much gray area.” – Virginia resident Maddie Martin, 19
  • “Teens haven’t been this politically active since the Vietnam War.” – Illinois resident Sadie Madden, 15

More Gen Zs are exploring new gender norms — or discarding gender all together — than previous generations

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

One 17-year-old told Business Insider that Gen Zs consider gender on a spectrum.

Almost 3% of teenagers don’t identify as either male or female – a number that researchers in transgender studies say has grown from previous years. That means they’re genderqueer, identifying as neither male or female, and may use a pronoun like “they,” “xe,” or “hy.”

“We’ve broken a lot of stereotypes in our generation,” the 17-year-old told Business Insider.