Defining ‘Millennials,’ ‘Generation Z’ creates confusion at University

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Defining ‘Millennials,’ ‘Generation Z’ creates confusion at University

By Elizabeth Sayasane, Staff writer

The term Millennial originated as a way to distinguish the generations born in between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, but since then, the understanding of what a Millennial is has become muddled. Now, it is difficult to distinguish between when Millennials end and where Generation Z picks up, and the intersection of these generations on college campuses is occurring across the nation.

Ben Pauling, senior in ACES, believes the distinction of the generations is clear between students born in the ’90s and those born in 2000 and after, making the oldest people in Generation Z of age 17.

“My brother, he’s a senior in high school,” Pauling said. “There’s no way of looking at him and being like, ‘Oh, he’s gen Z,’ but I feel like he probably grew up in a different age than I did.”

Pauling said the greatest difference in the two generations is the increased presence of technology and social media in the lives of those born after 2000.

Those currently in high school are accustomed to having laptops and smartphones at their fingertips. 

For Pauling, he sees the whole of his generation as being self-involved. He said they are averse to in-person interaction, choosing instead to have uncomfortable conversations over Facebook or through text. Millennials care about their own personal investments, as opposed to being community-oriented, and their work ethic is falling.

“I think, generally speaking, the generation distinctions are pretty accurate,” Pauling said.

Etai Schnitman, freshman in DGS, has a very different overall impression of Millennials and Generation Z. However, he has no trouble aggressively denying the existence of generational distinctions.

“We’re all just people, and it’s all down to the individual … it doesn’t have anything to do with your age or generation,” Schnitman said.

Schnitman believes one cannot divide the population based on generation. The University may have had a different atmosphere years ago, and the problems faced by students now might have a different context, but he believes the students are fundamentally the same.

This idea is supported by the research of Dr. Brent Roberts, professor of psychology. Roberts introduced a new term, cohort differences, to use in the discussion of generations.

“If you grew up in a different cohort, you had different parenting experiences, different peer relationships, different societal expectations than somebody born one generation before,” Roberts said.

Roberts’ involvement and interest in this topic stem from his research in narcissism.

One of his contemporaries, Jean Twengy, published a study in the early ‘90s stating that those born in later generations are faulted by an increase in narcissism, and this has become a primary stereotype and complaint of Millennials. However, Roberts’ own research has found evidence contrary to Twengy’s.

According to Roberts, narcissism is a set of character traits most prominently displayed in the late teens, before it steadily declines throughout the span of a lifetime.

The least narcissistic are grandparents, not because they were born in an inherently humble generation, but because they are the oldest generation alive. Roberts’ studies indicate that the correlation between generation and narcissism is a fallacy, and it has more to do with developmental psychology.

“This isn’t to say there aren’t differences between your generation and my generation,” Roberts said. “There are obviously things that are different between the generations. Whether that translates into what somebody like me would call a ‘personality difference’ is an interesting question.”

While the younger generations may not be any more narcissistic than 20-year-olds of any other generation, because of the presences of technology in society, differences have arisen in regard to lifestyle.

Dr. Dawn Aubrey, associate director of university housing for dining services, has observed the key variations in character.

Aubrey defines Generation Z as those born between 1995 and 2010, making the oldest member of Generation Z age 22. She said, however, that generations are a continuum, without distinct start and end dates. The key distinguishing feature of Generation Z is their pace of life.

Aubrey explained that Generation Z has an overly developed visual cortex, and this means they are able to process information incredibly quickly. It follows that Generation Z is good at things like multitasking, but bad at sitting in lecture halls.

“They like to be active; they love experiential learning,” Aubrey said. “It’s also essential that they feel they are making a difference … they care very deeply about their world.”

Many key distinctions Aubrey makes between Millennials and Generation Z connect back to the history of each generation.

Aubrey said Millennials were born into a relatively comfortable life, and they entered the workforce within a bubble of positivity and optimism. When the recession hit in 2008, that bubble was popped, and they had to deal with a harsh reality.

Generation Z grew up seeing the effects of the recession, making them warier of politicians and big corporations, while also making them more set on righting the wrongs of previous generations.

Whereas Millennials tend to be inwardly focused on how to fix themselves in order to better the community, Generation Z approaches the situation with the idea that fixing the community is instrumental in fixing themselves.

The distinctions between Millennials and Generation Z are numerous, and yet, at their core, they are the same as any other 20-year-old on a college campus.

An interesting point of conversation concerning generational distinctions is how they transcend international borders.

Roberts explained that the data is thinner internationally, but his personal observations led him to believe that the obsession over the naming of generations is a very American characteristic.

Aubrey believes while it may have been primarily American in the past, it has begun to shift to include other developed countries and is primarily a result of technology.

As Roberts explains, “Millennials are an interesting cohort because they’re at the crucible of personality development … 20-year-olds tend to be a little more narcissistic, a little less emotionally stable, a little more impulsive, not as nice, and they get over it. Which is good.”

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