News & Opinion | January 27, 2020 7:00 am

Will Gen Z and Millennials Eventually Grow to Hate Each Other?

"OK, Boomer" is currently a common refrain. Will that change with age?

Millennial vs Gen. Z
Millennials and Gen. Z share a lot in common — but will that change?

It’s a crime punishable by eternal nagging to show up to a family function in a pair of ripped jeans. But ripped denim is such a common style for the majority of young people that we don’t even notice we’re wearing it until a person above the age of 65 comments on it. And without fail, they do, leaving us to sit there and politely nod while making a mental note to never bring this wrath upon our poor legs again.

“Aren’t you cold?” “Do you want me to patch those?” “If you needed a new pair of jeans I would’ve given you some cash.”

Ripped denim is just one of the many crucial issues young and old generations don’t see eye to eye on — an unsurprising generational phenomenon. And as the oldest Millennials reach 40 and grow further from the light of youth, it’s easy to wonder how big the gulf in worldview will grow between them and the generation that follows. Will Gen Z look back at all the fucked up things the previous generation has imposed on them? Will they find themselves saying, “OK, Millennial”?

As a Gen Zer myself, I don’t feel too detached from Millennials at present. We have similar political and social views. We both have crippling student-loan debt. Most of us know what TikTok is. We don’t want the planet to die. We have a common enemy: Baby Boomers (and like everyone, forget Generation X’s existence entirely).

It isn’t hard to search the internet and find a meme or two about Gen Z and Millennials banding together to fight Boomers, nor is it hard to understand why. 

@jorobe

Ok, boomer.

♬ Animal – Sir Chloe

Article after article has blamed Millennials for some of the world’s greatest atrocities (like the deaths of fabric softener and diamonds) and chastised them for spending their money on avocado toast instead of mortgages or not having enough money to start a 401k (typically without mention of that tiny little financial crisis).

Because these generational labels are ever-changing, it can be difficult to determine who falls into which group (people born in 1996 are still a tossup, e.g.). On the internet, “Millennial” tends to function as a catch-all for anyone under the age of 40. Despite the fact that I’m a Gen Zer, if my uncle caught me on my phone at a holiday party, he’d surely bestow me with an eye roll and a super original take on Millennials and selfies. It’s the common ground that the Millennial-Gen Z alliance is built upon: our position as the dual objects of Boomer ire. Add in the other things we share — that student-debt crisis, the dying planet we’ve inherited — and “Ok, Boomer” was an inevitable rallying cry.

Gen Z and Millennials also share similar views on key social and political issues, with both tending to be more liberal than older generations. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, only about three-in-10 Gen Zers and Millennials approve of Trump’s presidency, compared to 38 percent of Gen X and 43 percent of Baby Boomers. When it comes to race, younger generations are more likely to say that people of color are treated less fairly than whites in the United States today, and believe an increase in racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. is a good thing for society, while older generations are less convinced. 

Gen Z and Millennials’ views regarding climate change are also pretty much identical: about half of both generations say human activity is causing global warming. Another study found that 62 percent of Gen Zers prefer to buy from sustainable brands, on par with Millennials. Gen Z is also more likely to spend more for sustainable products (73 percent), just like their forebears (68 percent).

Trends regarding mental health are also similar across the two generations. One study showed that three-in-four members of Generation Z and half of Millennials have voluntarily quit jobs due in part to mental-health problems. Millennials have been called the “Therapy Generation,” while Gen Zers are more likely than all other adult generations to report mental health concerns.

Technology and social media also seem to play a crucial factor in how these younger generations interact with each other. Millennials came of age during the tech and internet explosion, while much of Gen Z has been immersed since they were born. Ninety-five percent of U.S. teens and 93 percent of Millennials report that they own a smartphone or have access to one, compared to only 68% of Baby Boomers. And while Gen Z’s TikTok trends and YouTube gossip may be hard even for Millennials to keep up on, the fact that both younger generations have a stronger understanding of internet trends and communication tools makes it easier to relate and engage with one another.

But most importantly, unlike Baby Boomers, Millennials seem to show more support for Generation Z’s concerns, ideas and general outspokenness. Instead of writing them off as too young or simply uneducated teens, Millennials often engage in our protests, take our political involvement seriously, and above all, simply listen to us. And maybe go a tiny bit overboard and tell us we’re gonna be the generation that “saves us all.” We appreciate the sentiment, but we didn’t sign up for all of that.

@kristengula

#millennials are on your side, my guys – don’t worry. #okboomer #fyp #fypage #boomers

♬ OK BOOMER – Peter Kuli

So how will Gen Z look back on the age of Millennials? As of right now, most likely not with much political strife. Sure, we’ll look back and laugh about how lame their TikToks were (yup, you’re too old to be doing Renegade Dances), and maybe we’ll even resent them a bit for expecting us to solve problems they helped create. But those problems are too big and presumably will only get worse if we stand divided. It seems maybe now more than ever, two successive generations are prepared to look out for one another and listen to each other — if only because they have to.