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It’s official: Gen Z are a generation of power-hungry girlbosses

A new landmark study has found that young people across the world value ‘power, achievement, hedonism and stimulation’ more than other generations

Baby boomers are all conservative and selfish and unable to send an email unassisted; millennials are all lazy and entitled and obsessed with avocados. These are just a few of the totalising, reductive stereotypes about the generations that are often thrown about in the media, even if it’s clear that these sweeping generalisations simply aren’t true. A new landmark global study from strategic communications consultancy BCW has even found that talk about gaping generational divides are usually overblown, and that “regardless of age, we are all primarily social, caring, safety-seekers”.

That said, the same study found Gen Z – born between 1997 and 2012 – stand out as valuing “power, achievement, hedonism and stimulation” more than other age groups. So, basically, we’re all power-hungry thrill-seekers.

The findings found that 44 per cent of Gen Z thought it was important to be very successful and have people recognise their achievements, compared with 37 per cent of millennials, 23 per cent of Gen X, 13 per cent of boomers and 14 per cent of the silent generation. 32 per cent of Gen Z believe it is important to be rich, compared with just 26 per cent of millennials and 16 per cent of Gen X.

Why are we still shackled to girlboss culture? Social media, the researchers claim, has a lot to do with it. “Younger generations have grown up in highly [digitised] societies in which peers’ achievements are broadcast on social media, affording a window into the highlights of other people’s lives,” Taylor Saia, strategy director at BCW, wrote in the report. “As a result, it’s no wonder that younger generations focus so much on realising, and being seen to be realising, their highest potential.”

The report also acknowledged that “young people have always been motivated by ambition, to progress and achieve personal success as well as social standing and power,” and noted that this trend may be more pronounced among Gen Z given the economic challenges they are facing. This makes sense: in the UK, for example, Gen Z have grown up in the era of austerity and even the oldest members of the cohort will struggle to remember a time when the state adequately supported people. They’ve grown up thinking that inadequate welfare is ‘normal’, and that the only way to progress in life – or even just to stay afloat, given that the cost of living crisis is still very much raging on – is to focus on yourself and hustle. 

43 per cent of Gen Z also said it was important “to do things that can give them pleasure” and that they “seek every chance they can to have fun”, falling to 38 per cent of millennials and 27 per cent of Gen X. But, hang on – aren’t Gen Z famously having no sex? And swerving alcohol? Well, speaking to the Guardian, Lisa Story, BCW’s chief strategy officer, said: “The values are consistent, but they’re very different for different people in different environments. So, to be hedonistic, might be about […] going for a really good run and meeting friends for a juice at the end of it.” As mental as that sounds, it’s fair to say we haven’t beat the ‘puriteen’ allegations just yet.

Anyway, the study also stresses that the priority of values for Gen Z “varies markedly by cultural region” and that a “nuanced approach to understanding and engaging this cohort is needed”. Essentially, no generation is homogenous, and Gen Z is no exception.

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