You may be sick of hearing about Millennials. Heck, most Millennials are sick of hearing about Millennials—and many resent being lumped into one massive, stereotyped group. It was no different for the Gen Xers who came before them. But there’s a reason why those stereotypes exist—and there are distinct differences among the generations. Next up is Generation Z. At 61 million strong, this group has been a target for marketers looking to build early brand loyalty. And now that they’re starting to enter the workforce, get ready to hear a lot more about this cohort.
A Brief Overview of the Generations
According to Tammy Erickson, McKinsey Award-winning author and leading expert on generations in the workplace, people are shaped by the world they experience between the ages of 11 and 15. The argument is compelling. Here’s how it’s playing out:
Baby Boomers, born somewhere in the range of 1946-1964, came of age during a critical era of protest—such as civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, the Vietnam war—and experienced the highly-visible assassination of popular political leaders such as JFK and MLK. The world was in turmoil and they wanted to change it. In general, this group is considered hard-working, driven, anti-authoritarian, and idealistic. They value success and expect to be rewarded based on experience.
Generation X (~1965-1980) grew up in a lousy economy with layoffs changing the one-company-one-career tradition forever. This era was also marked by skyrocketing divorce rates. And the Challenger explosion—seen live by millions of school children—made an indelible mark on this generation. Gen Xers tend to be more self-reliant, skeptical, and willing to test authority. This group values time and expects to be rewarded based on merit.
Millennials (~1981-1995) lived through 9/11, the Columbine school shooting, and other acts terrorism. As a response to a world full of terrible things happening seemingly at random, they tend to focus on living in the moment and are willing to jump to the “next thing” if the “current thing” doesn’t live up to their expectations or desires. Millennials value individuality and want to be rewarded based on contribution.
Generation Z (~1996-2010) is less defined as a group. They’re still maturing, still in the process of becoming who they’ll be as adults. This group grew up in a world of global terrorism and financial crisis and recession—with information about all world events available instantly. So, it’s no surprise that Gen Zers tend to be diverse, independent, and hopeful (they’re still young, after all) but realistic.
The Generations and Technology
So how does all this shape generational attitudes toward privacy and security? According to a study by LastPass, 41% of Gen Zers don’t believe they are targets for hackers, compared to only 27% of Millennials and 21% of Gen Xers who feel cyber-invincible. The same research showed this youngest group doesn’t put a lot of thought into the passwords they create; 26% admit to using only one or two distinct passwords across all their online accounts. Research from Webroot found that only 24% of the Gen Z population know what ransomware is, compared to 34% of Millennials and 50% of Boomers.
Technology has existed for millennia—just look at the invention of the wheel. When we talk about technology today, we think of IP-based tech, which was developed in the 1970s but didn’t start to gain widespread adoption by ordinary people until the mid-1990s. Baby boomers were adults and had to acquire the skills to use these modern technologies. Gen Xers were in their late teens and twenties—young enough to assimilate the new technologies relatively easily. Many Millennials were in their key formative years, and technology was integral to their lives. And Gen Zers were born into a connected, always-on culture; these so-called digital natives have never known a world without cell phones, computers, and the internet.
What it Means for the Future of Cybersecurity and Privacy
Interestingly, privacy doesn’t seem to follow a linear progression with age the way security does. A study by the Center for Generational Kinetics uncovered that Gen Z is more concerned about online privacy than Millennials, but less concerned about online privacy than Gen X or Baby Boomers. It’s why Zers have embraced SnapChat, the social network that “disappears” posts after a short time but is also willing to trade privacy for personalization and more connectedness. They are willing to give up their contact information in exchange for a tailored experience, and they have high expectations for what that experience should deliver.
The bottom line is that while the youngest generation is in full control of privacy, it’s blasé about security. As this cohort begins to enter the workforce in ever-increasing numbers, security controls will need to evolve accordingly. The premium they place on privacy bodes well for their ability to handle confidential data in a responsible manner. It’s the protection side of things that pose the highest IT risk. While user education will likely always be part of any organization’s arsenal, finding ways to automate security and use artificial intelligence will be more important than ever.
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