Size: >69 million / 21% of the population — projected to be a larger generation than Millennials
This post is part of our series on the ways that Utility Customer Relationship Management affects customer engagement. Because they serve people of all ages, utility messaging needs to be multigenerational.
Utilities already have customers from Generation Z, and that number is going to grow in the coming years. Because of the way generations acquire a name and definition, younger generations tend to be less defined — especially while most of their members are still children and teenagers. So, while even the name remains only semi-defined, let’s take a quick look at Generation Z, sometimes more generally referred to, likely along with members of the next generation, as post-Millennial.
According to Pew Research, Generation Z was born between 1997 and 2010, but other sources extend the end date several years. In any case, the oldest members of the generation are college age — and a higher percentage of this generation than any other is actually in college. While it is currently hard to find estimates of the precise size of Generation Z, it is big, bigger than the Millennial generation. “At approximately 60 million, native-born American members of Generation Z outnumber their endlessly dissected millennial older siblings by nearly one million, according to census data compiled by Susan Weber-Stoger, a demographer at Queens College,” notes the New York Times. That was only births and it was back in 2015. A study by Goldman Sachs using data from the 2014 estimated that the generation was then 69 million strong. The generation will have grown since then due to immigration.
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Generation Z grew up with the World Wide Web, social media, and mobile devices. Some were small children during the 9/11 attacks and they do not remember a time without war in the Middle East. They may not remember a time without the iPhone and Facebook. The Great Recession occurred during their childhoods, and they saw its effect on their families or at least on their friends. The oldest members of Generation Z were five years old when the first social network Friendster (2002) emerged on the World Wide Web. They do not remember a time when wearable computing was impossible, though it has not been popularly available for their entire lives.
Generation Z may be the water generation, in terms of utilities. What the 1970s Energy Crisis did for oil in the minds of Baby Boomers, and the 2003 Northeast Blackout did for electricity in the minds of Generation X and Millennials, the the 2000s and 2010s are doing for water in the minds of Millennials and Generation Z.
Four overlapping US draughts have hit the US since 2006: draught has affected Generation Z, and its parents or at least it’s friends in California from 2006-2010 and 2012-2017, in the Southern US and Mexico from 2010-2013, and then spreading to much of the US in its final year. Then again just three years later with the New York in 2016. Widespread coverage of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan (between draughts in 2014) illustrated to the generation and its parents that are multiple possible causes of water crisis. Nor does it look like water will cease to be a problem in the coming years. In 2015, the World Economic Forum listed water scarcity as a top global risk.
Generation Z is highly connected and used to the pace of digital communication, however, they appear to be getting more careful about privacy. They also seem to share Generation X’s skepticism about causes and institutions. Like The Silent Generation which was influenced by draught, war, and economic recession to an even greater degree, they seem likely to value community, frugality, and career and financial security albeit not in identical ways.