Millennials, according to the endless, cutting “Gen Z vs…” videos, are the burnout generation, the youngest are “self-obsessed snowflakes”. We part our hair to the side, wear slogans and decorate the one-bedroom apartments we busted a gut for with positive affirmations. too. We’re into Taylor Swift, call our pets “doggo”, and use the laughing face emoji in a “cringe” way.
Gen Z are into self-care and self-informing, tie-dye and jeans with width, Zendaya and Greta Thunberg. They don’t laugh, they “die” ironically. They middle part their hair, care – truly – about the climate crisis, and cancel “irrelevant” views.
They are demanding what they want in their twenties where millennials waited until our thirties. But the truth for many millennial women is that that’s okay – because we’re established, not afraid. We’ve already claimed our confidence, pushed envelopes and torn down systems by forcing greater gender equality and diversity in workplaces that lacked them when we walked in. Plus, those TikTok videos – made by teenagers dressed in the handkerchief tops, ’90s slip dresses and sweats that we wore first – are, actually, laughing face emoji funny.
Zoe, 22, who graduated into a London tech company last year, offers a Gen Z take: “I remember being 14 and reading a piece by a millennial woman who’d just entered the workplace. She was the older, cooler generation, the youngest in her office, and I wanted to identify with her. Now that’s my generation, my benchmark is totally different. The generation gap feels very real, in the way we dress, socialise and work.”
She adds: “The high-powered, long-hours careers that were desirable to older millennials lack sparkle for my generation. We want to work in sustainable, socially impactful and creative companies and place greater value over our time and boundaries. I think I could pass where my millennial colleagues are within three years by asking for what I want and what I’m worth.”
Bobby Duffy, professor of public policy at King’s College London and author of Generations: Does When You’re Born Shape Who You Are? believes millennials have had it harder than previous groups. “They came into adulthood against the backdrop of a terrible economy and during the explosion of social media, making them the first generation to get picked on, on scale.”
Now that it’s Gen Z’s turn to be “the youth”, says Duffy, they’re fighting back by picking on older millennials. “Actually the gap between these two generations – in terms of attitudes, beliefs, behaviour – is much narrower than between previous ones. Social media incentivises conflict and makes it feel bigger.”
Those ironic memes are sometimes sharply accurate. Grace summarises the reality neatly: “It is completely OK to realise that a generation is different than the one that came before or after them as long as we don’t pit generations of women against each other and say one is better than another. That is a trope that has been long overplayed.”