characteristics of elder generation z, born 1998-2004

Introducing Elder Z Insights for Marketers

June 29, 2020by Hiebing

The ultimate goal of research is to increase understanding and unearth insights. For marketers, those takeaways serve as the bedrock for marketing strategies and the creative work that stems from them.

In recent years, the millennial generation has been heavily researched, widely written about and frequently discussed corporately and culturally – giving the world and marketers a strong grasp of the millennial mindset about work and life. To the contrary, society’s understanding of Gen Z remains scant even as they sit on the cusp of comeuppance. Such unknowns were the driving force for our agency’s recent primary research on the upper echelon of Gen Z, which our Hiebing team has named “Elder Z.”

Gen Z as a whole includes those born between 1998 and 2013, while the Elder Z segment includes those born between 1998 and 2004, putting them at ages 16 to 22. About half of Elder Z is currently in the workforce and the other half is about to enter it, which means their earning and spending potential are on the rise – and therefore rising priorities for brands.

At this stage of the game, most brands are not engaging with Elder Z or even thinking much about them. But in order to reach this segment effectively later, marketers must take time right now to get to know this group. Here, we share the learnings from our research and offer thoughts on what it means for those looking to connect with the Elder Z cohort in the years ahead.

Research Parameters

We conducted our Elder Z research between Oct. 24 and Nov. 17, 2019. Respondents totaled 1,221, giving us a stout cross section of participants throughout the United States.

  • Ages 16-22
  • 50/50 gender split
  • Varied education levels
  • Ethnically diverse
  • Economically diverse
  • Geographically diverse, across regions and settings
    • Urban (31%), suburban (41%) and rural/small town (28%)

Elder Z Key Themes

While each human’s life is shaped by a unique context and set of circumstances, there’s an extensive lineup of common experiences and cultural touchpoints that unite individuals across a generation. That shared bond is very real and strong – and it’s what makes generational articles and memes so powerful and so popular among boomers, Gen X and millennials. Generation-specific content both feels and is differentiated, relevant and true to each cohort, which is ultimately why it resonates deeply. At Hiebing, we believe these same characteristics – differentiated, relevant and true – are the very same things that make a brand’s marketing meaningful to the target audience.

To reach the target that is Elder Z, we must learn how their common experiences, communication and lifestyle preferences, challenges and opportunities shape what “differentiated, relevant and true” means for them. Our research revealed a handful of themes and key insights.

Smartphones Reign

This cohort is truly the first generation of digital natives. Elder Z has never been sans internet or cellphone, and they’ve been walking around with the whole World Wide Web in their hands since they were old enough to play with their parents’ phones.

When leaving the house, 90% of them cite their phones as must-haves – while only 70% list their wallets and only 32% list credit cards. (This leaves us to wonder if their online payment platforms serve as their actual wallets.) Two-thirds of those surveyed said they’d be miserable if they forgot their phone at home for the day. Yes, miserable – perhaps because their phones tend to be their preferred window for seeing and experiencing the world, regardless of whether they’re out and about or at home.

Honesty and Altruism Carry Weight

Despite their social media life’s endless editing capabilities and filters, Elder Z places a high value on transparency and authenticity – just about as much as the millennial generation that precedes them. In fact, 90% of Elder Z want brands to be honest, and 85% want them to make the world a better place. While making the world better can be daunting for brands (even with the popularity of cause marketing and community giving), it can be even more challenging for brands to be transparent about the details of what they do and how.

Mental Health Matters

Anxiety is a strong and common undercurrent in the lives of Elder Z. More than 50% say they struggle with it, and 75% say their friends do. What’s concerning them most includes: school, finances, social interactions, confrontations, the future and climate change.

While our research didn’t dig into the whys behind their many worries, we spent time considering what could be fueling some of their fretfulness, which seems to rank notches higher than previous generations. Thoughts included:

  • Schools have never been safe havens for this generation. Rather, they’ve been places where lockdowns, metal detectors or active-shooter drills are the norm – beginning with Columbine in 1999 and many other school shootings since, including Sandy Hook in 2012 and Parkland in 2018, not to mention other acts of gun violence in the public sphere, such as Charleston in 2015, Las Vegas in 2017 and then some.
  • Normal and boom times have been interrupted by downturns of significant proportion. Both 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis were pivotal nationally and globally, transforming travel processes and procedures and shifting the financial health and wealth of the world. (And we can only expect that COVID-19 will add yet another layer of complexity.)
  • Elder Z tends toward less IRL socialization. Even though 90% also say they enjoy going out with their friends, 40% still say they prefer to stay home. And no matter where they are, their social media usage is heavy, which is attributed with causing anxiety.

Females Outpunch Males in Terms of Purchasing Power

From dining out to online shopping and everything in between, Elder Z women are out-purchasing their male counterparts. Restaurant spending for women sits at 86%, while just 81% for men. The difference is even greater with online shopping, with 59% of women making purchases online and just 47% of men doing so. Given their spendier tendencies, brands serving a female audience might want to start courting and connecting with that slice of the segment sooner than later.

Social Media Is Significant, Serves Many Purposes

Elder Z is seriously invested in the social space, but not just for reasons you’d think: They not only use social media for posting, gaming and streaming, they also consider it their source for information and entertainment.

And this group isn’t just passively consuming and being present on social, they’re actively participating in the platforms – through a mix of online and offline activities, such as posting or doing what they’re seeing in real life (making food, learning a dance, etc.). And the content Elder Z creates and consumes varies dramatically, including: eating weird stuff or eating stuff weirdly (e.g., ASMR), makeup routines, dance and lifestyle videos and more. Because of this, there are significant prospects for brands to build relationships with this segment across a combination of platforms.

Looking Ahead

These learnings provide a starting point for brands – as now’s the time to start considering what strategic and tactical shifts will be needed to reach Elder Z in a meaningful way. Stay tuned for a series of additional posts that delve deeper into the mindset of this generational segment on the following topics:

  • Social Media: The (starring) role it plays in Elder Z’s life and what that means for marketers
  • Money: The way Elder Z views, spends and thinks about finances and the opportunities finance-related brands can seize to serve them
  • Restaurants: The habits and preferences of Elder Z regarding restaurants – including dining in, driving through and ordering delivery

Interested in how research can strengthen your brand’s understanding of and connection with your target? Email Ted at to set up a call.


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