The “&” Generation

Why Gen Z is defined by "and" rather than "or"

Hannah Jones, Head of Insight at Goodstuff examines why today's youth are defined by the word "and" rather than "or".

Blurring of boundaries is a beautiful thing

Gen Z seem like a nice bunch, don’t they? Open-minded, globally-interested, prioritising their family and friends, and striving for a good work/life balance. Less binary. More fluid. Refusing to be pigeon-holed by a singular passion or identity; comfortable with the incongruous.

It seems that throughout history we have looked at youth as something of an alien species. Somehow surprised that as the world itself evolves, that the expectations and behaviours of those who spend their formative years in it also change.

As always, there’s danger in generalising an age range, or any group of people for that matter. But this research reminds us of the importance of understanding people from their own point of view. To throw off assumptions. To explore differences to our own attitudes and expectations. To explore contradictions both within groups and within individuals.

This is where the fascinating stuff lies. Contradictions fuel ideas, and this is a generation who, according to the research, are comfortable with contradiction. For example, 16-24s recognise the importance of hard work, but also prioritise their work/life balance – things that may seem incompatible to previous generations, but why should they be? Disrupting conventions and what we’re willing to accept as “normal” is arguably the role of youth. Who are we to say that ambition should be defined by wanting to make CEO?

Or that you can’t identify as a vegetarian-foodie-raver-gamer?

It appears that this is a generation more defined by “and” than “or” - the internet allows them to cherry-pick from across culture and history, creating hybrids of interests and careers. Giving them access to a wider circle of influence than the mags and mates route of my Cumbrian youth (where trends went to die…). Blurring of boundaries is a beautiful thing that should be celebrated.

But the findings also help us to remember that we’re all human beings, driven by similar base needs and motivations (just with varied levels of emphasis, different exact meanings and manifested in different ways..).

So, as with all generations, don’t make assumptions - listen to them, learn from them – and perhaps you’ll find some interesting contradictions where creativity can thrive.

This piece formed a part of our recent research into the motives and motivations of Generation Z. Read the full findings and download the report.

Last updated 21 January 2022