Exploring Gen Z

How They Differ From Millennials

BY Michele Cunningham, Victoria Sicilia

Whether in major media outlets, or conversations overheard among family members or at your local coffee shop, it seems like anyone under the age of 30 is assumed to be a Millennial; but there’s a new, younger generation emerging that deserves to be distinguished from their older counterparts. Gen Zers – those born after 1995, but before 2013 – are a generation turning the wheel of Social Values again; and just like the cohorts that preceded them, they hold their own unique set of motivations and beliefs that differentiate them from previous generations.

At Environics Research, we’ve spent decades tracking Canadian values and watching how they’ve evolved over time. We know that people’s values, what we think is good and bad, and what we want for ourselves and our society, crystallize early in life and tend to be shaped by deep, formative experiences in childhood – such as economic security or hardship, war or peace, stability or upheaval. We’ve seen that multiple generations share many early experiences and, while there is plenty of variability between the individuals that make up those generations (meet our six different segments of Millennials), certain shared values tend to permeate across these groups as a result.

While our work studying the emerging Gen Z cohort is ongoing, we have identified a unique set of values that set this group apart from their predecessors.


While there are certainly many similarities between Gen Zers and Millennials, we’ve noted five key values that are significantly more prominent among this younger group:

  1. Greater Rejection of Authority
  2. Greater demonstrated importance of an Ecological Lifestyle
  3. Greater shared belief in The Canadian Dream or the ability to rise to success as the children of recent immigrants
  4. Greater importance placed on Ethical Consumerism
  5. Greater Primacy on Environmental Protection

As we look more closely at the motivations and beliefs that are so prominent among Gen Zers, it’s not hard to see how the changing world has impacted their values. This is a generation that spent its formative years embracing the reality of climate change. While past generations have heard debates over its legitimacy, and reports about the science not being settled, for Gen Z the debate is long over; and climate change deniers exist well outside the mainstream. Not only that, but they’re witnessing the impacts climate change has on their world, in the form of increasingly devastating storm seasons, and rising water levels and global temperatures. The media Gen Z consumes has greater representation of recent immigrants and BIPOC than any previous generation, giving them a more inclusive view of who can achieve success. And this new generation has seen, first-hand, the power of activism when it comes to challenging the status quo, in the form of worldwide movements such as climate action, protests to end gun violence and the #MeToo movement. While Millennials can be credited with participating in or even being at the forefront of many of these movements, Gen Zers have never lived in a world without them.

This is a generation that has spent its whole life with access to smartphones, and an ever-growing library of apps and digital tools

All of these factors are of course compounded by the largest differentiator from their predecessors – their overwhelmingly easy access to information and connection across the globe. This is a generation that has spent its whole life with access to smartphones, and an ever-growing library of apps and digital tools that provide the ability learn, connect, watch and participate in movements around the world. With all that in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that Gen Zers index so highly on these specific values when compared to older generations.

All of that being said, similarities between Gen Zers and Millennials can certainly be found. Our research has shown that many of the values characteristics shared by these two generations are also what set them apart so distinctly from Gen Xers or Boomers. Values such as Pursuit of Novelty, Personal Optimism, Need for Status Recognition, Ostentatious Consumption, Attraction to Crowds, Pursuit of Originality, Multiculturalism and Penchant for Risk are all held strongly by both Millennials and Gen Zers, yet were found to have much lower salience among older generations. It’s likely that these large values shifts can be attributed a vastly changed world – one that was a very different place to grow up in for Millennials and Gen Zers than it was for Boomers and Gen Xers.

As our research into the Gen Z cohort continues, we’ll continue to answer questions, not only about how this generation came to be who they are, but who they will become. How will the world shape their future? Will Gen Z forever become the Pandemic Generation due to massive disruptions in their education and early career opportunities? How will they respond?

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