“There has been much talk about the millennial generation being entitled, lazy and narcissistic. And while millennials like myself were busy fending off the harsh criticisms and stereotypes constantly flung at our generation, a whole new demographic was slowly emerging from the shadows. Hello, Generation Z! The fiscally responsible, tattoo hating, Republican leaning group, touted by conservatives as their best hope for the future, and as the antithesis of millennials.“—Ashley Stahl, Forbes
eneration Z, or those born in the 1900s to early 2000s, make up 25 percent of the U.S. population, making them a larger cohort than the baby boom or millennial generations. And statistically, GenZ is predicted to be the most conservative generation in recent memory. And the American Institute of CPAs, or AICPA,, has given me another reason to hope for the future.
In a survey released this month, AICPA found that the number of Americans delaying higher education due to financial concerns has dropped but that college admissions have also gone down. “With overall college enrollments down and the average cost of college tuition continuing to creep up, these results suggest that Americans may be questioning the idea that going to college is the best financial decision for everyone.” And I couldn’t be happier.
The oldest millennials turn 37 this year and are well into adulthood. In fact, they first entered adulthood before today’s youngest adults were born. So I think it is safe to say that it was millennials, not GenZ who have sold their financial soul (and their future) to the god of higher learning, with the average student graduating with $39,400 in student loan debt.
Pew Research Center uses 1996 as the last birth year for millennials, meaning anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2018) is considered to be a millennial, although there isn’t one clear year in which millennials end and GenZ begins. I think Pews definition is an accurate one, particularly when you examine that it isn’t GenZ getting excited over 90s nostalgia. All of this to say that it is GenZ that is taking a look at the high cost of education and, instead of selling out their financial future, they’re opting to just get on with life.
Unfortunately, millennials were told from cradle to high school graduation, that the ticket to financial success and freedom was to get a university degree. And during the booming 80s, this was certainly true, as it became the exclusive employment club of the 90s and beyond. But today, it is widely recognized that the quality of education a university student receives in 2018 in comparison to that in the 1980s is poor and not worth the paper it is printed on—or the cost.
Still, a degree is considered a necessary bridge to becoming a part of the working elite. It’s a pay to play scheme for a step on the bottom rung of the elite ladder. Here’s why. When millennials, many of them as old as 37, are the ones in charge of hiring and still have student debt chained to their ankle like a lead ball, they aren’t going to hire you into their club unless you, too, have paid your dues. It’s just human nature.
GenZ is akin to the 1960s generation in that they don’t aspire to be “the man,” rather they want to be their own person. Having grown up in a materialistic society in the death throes of a long and painful recession, broken families and a broken nation, GenZ is taking a hard look around them and deciding they don’t even want to play the same game as previous generations.
According to an article in Medium, integrated thinking and adaptability are skills that will be in high demand for the complex working environment of the future, which means GenZ will need to become experts in several areas. There is no better way to achieve skills than to continually be engaged in self-propelled learning or even through contract employment, where methodologies can be soaked up like sponges as young adults move from industry to industry. With the availability of online webinars and career podcasts, GenZ will be the first generation that can step outside of the prescribed box of what makes an employee valuable. No college required.
The AICPA survey also found that GenZ isn’t going to put marriage or having children on hold as millennials have done. “For example, 6 percent put off marriage last year, a change from 12 percent in 2015. Additionally, only 7 percent put off having children, compared to 13 percent in 2015.”
It has been well documented that the one thing all elites have in common is that they marry relatively young and stay married. While millennials have been emotionally scarred due to the annihilation of the nuclear family, GenZ sees the wisdom of nuclear families and the stability it brings in a chaotic and uncertain world.
Generation Z has had its eyes open from the very beginning. They’ve never known a world that isn’t connected to the internet or never experienced a world without terrorism, school shootings and global conflict, even though many of them have no memory of 9-11. They are pragmatic and individualistic and, although they were born into a post-church secular society, almost all profess to believe in God. So although they might not marry for religious reasons, 77 percent of 13 to 35 year olds say they want to get married.
Stable families free from debt make for a stable society, both in economic terms and in social capital, so it may be unfair, but a lot of weight is on the shoulders of this young generation to turn things around and correct what has gone wrong over the last several generations. Here’s to hoping they succeed.