News & Politics

Generation Z Meets DC

Photograph from Unsplash.

You might not have noticed, but the youngest generation—not millennials—arrived in Washington offices this year. More than 1.58 million area residents are part of Generation Z, which the Pew Research Center characterizes as anyone born in 1997 or later. Though many of the latest cohort are still in grade school, researchers can’t resist making comparisons on everything from how they party to how they shop. Here’s what we know:

How They’re Like Prior Cohorts

1. Like millennials, they speak up about mental health. Dubbed “the most anxious generation” by the Wall Street Journal, Gen Z reports anxiety at higher levels than even their famously thin-skinned predecessors.

2. They’re even more into callout culture than millennials, particularly on social media. See: Gucci’s blackface sweater, Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner commercial, Sephora’s racial profiling of SZA.

3. Like the teens of the ’80s—and conspicuously unlike millennial shoppers—they seem to love the mall. Nearly all young responders in a 2018 survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers said they’d recently been to a mall.

4. They’re thrifty. Many watched their parents get pummeled by economic chaos, as members of the Silent Generation did. No wonder they tell researchers they prioritize their financial security above most everything else. (It also shows why swapping social-media promotion for discounts is the new coupon-clipping.)

5. They’re entering the work­force at a time of record-low unemployment. Of course, the same could have been said for the millennials coming online around the turn of the century, so it may be too soon to determine just what this means.

How They’re Not Like Prior Cohorts

1. They’re digital natives. Sure, the same was said of millennials. But consider: Many Gen Z members never even knew a world without the web, meaning they never had to “adapt” to it.

2. They’re tamer than some predecessors. With a series of studies showing that fewer teens are having sex and drinking, they’re not keeping parents up at night (yet).

3. Unlike millennials, Gen Z isn’t down for group credit. Asked if they believe the mantra “If you want it done right, then do it yourself,” 71 percent said yes, according to a recent study.

4. They’re skeptical about credentials. Boomers invented the modern college system, Generation X sailed through it, and millennials racked up towering debt to amass degrees at record rates. Z members call affordability their top concern and appear genuinely open to alternative pathways.

5. They’re not rebels. Whereas antiestablishment posturing—real or fake—was de rigueur in prior cohorts, Gen Z trusts adults and tends to defer to authority, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This article appears in the July 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.