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How Generations Are Stereotyped On Social Media

Regardless of your age, stereotypes perpetuate misconceptions that can hinder your success in life and hold you back.

We have all heard the word millennial; it is tossed around like spare change in media today. Unfortunately, the word millennial is overused and often abused as if it is some secret society with all the answers to life’s lurking questions. As a group, Millennials are sought-after, and it seems that everyone aspires to be like them or claims to know them. The truth is, no one seems to understand them at all. This massive group is over-hyped, over-generalized, and often portrayed in a false light. Instead of seeing Millennials as the unique generation that they are, the world aims to understand the opportunities and barriers they face by creating stereotypes.

What is all the hype about anyway?

Millennials are not new.  In fact, the idea behind millennials has been around for centuries in one form or another. However, they demand attention through sheer numbers. Millennials have surpassed baby boomers to become the largest living generation in the U.S., with an estimated 75.4 million of them, and are the largest generation in the American workforce. Although every article you read claims to understand this group better than any other, they remain a sought-after mystery that we long to understand, and social media perpetuates stereotypes about their existence that leave us plagued with doubt.

It is not only millennials that are stereotyped in social media, however. Social media tends to form ideas about each generation, and these prevalent stereotypes can often hinder our realities, leaving us lost, alone, and confused about our place within society.

To understand the way generations are stereotyped, you must first understand the timeline of each generation.

Gen Z on social media:

For many years, it was the millennials who were the stars of social media. However, there is now a new group that is ready to steal the spotlight – Gen Z.

The definition of who falls into this category varies across the board. According to most, Gen Z includes anyone born after 1997 up until 2015. This group, which is considerably larger than its predecessors, is the new sought-after consumer on social media. As a result, Gen Z is predicted to overtake the millennials, already accounting for more than 20% of the U.S. population.  

Gen Z is slowly entering the workforce and obtaining increased buying power. As a result, they will undoubtedly target mass campaigns like those that pegged millennials as avocado toast-eating money wasters with little concern for the future. In fact, there are already many stereotypes surrounding this group, and they have only just stepped across the threshold out of childhood.

One stereotype this group cannot shake is the belief that they are addicted to their screens. Gen Z is considered the first truly digital generation – having had unlimited access to the internet since birth. As a result, this group spends an average of four hours per day on their mobile devices – the highest number of all generations. In addition, data from 2019 shows this group was spending upwards of three hours per day on social media, a number that is constantly rising and has increased by 1 hour since 2013.  Due to this heightened use of social media, this group is the ideal audience for influencer marketing campaigns.  

The iPhone launched in 2007 – when the oldest members of Gen Z were just 10-years-old. Today, 95 percent of kids age 13-17 have smartphones, and 97 percent use them daily to access at least one social media platform.

Gen Z is constantly connected to the internet, and more than half of them check YouTube and Instagram daily. Those within Gen Z check their social media more often than other groups, and they also spend more time on these platforms than any other generation. This connectedness has created stereotypes that often plague them as shallow, uncaring people who do not have interests outside of TikTok.

The truth is, Gen Z is a highly diverse group. They are digitally-minded, entrepreneurial-driven, and individualistic. Members of this group are tech-savvy, with very few knowing a world without the internet. Gen Z kids are more likely than any other generation to start their own business – with 72% of the older members of this generation wanting to own their own company. This group is also highly individual. Growing up in a world of personalized programming – everything from playlists to newsfeeds and products – has created a generation that knows what they like and expects to find it in their products.

Millennials and social media:

A millennial is anyone born between 1981 and 1996. This group is thought to be the largest since the Baby Boomer generation and is actively involved in the workforce and global politics. Millennials have lived through some incredible historical moments – the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the 2008 elections. These moments have shaped millennials into the political power that they are today and fueled their interest in online communication to spread important information.

Despite entering the workforce during the 2008 recession, a Brookings Institute study found that this group would rather make $40,000 at a job they loved than $100,000 at a job they hate. Millennials value flexibility in their work schedule, crave entrepreneurial freedom, and seek a clear work-life balance.

When it comes to social media, millennials are considered digital natives. Much like Gen Z, this group is no stranger to social media – with 93 percent owning a smartphone and 86 percent using social media regularly. Millennials understand the reach of social media, and they also understand the risks. The way millennials use social media differs from Gen Z, however. Millennials tend to spend their time on multiple platforms (an average of six platforms per week), while Gen Z tends to stick to two or three.

Millennials are more concerned about the culture of the company that they work for than other generations. Their parents focused work decisions on the rate of pay, job security, and experience. Millennials, however, want more from their company and their career.

A hot topic in media, millennials have been said to leave jobs quickly without notice, are thought to be lazy, and are often referred to as spoiled. Realistically, millennials will stick to a job if it is the right fit. However, when it is not, they are eager to seek out opportunities that are easily found in this job-seeker market.

When millennials ask for shorter workdays, lighter workloads, and vacation time or benefits, they are labeled lazy. The truth is, this group has grown up learning to ask for what they want, and much of the time, they have received it. Chances are the millennial is requesting these things to strike a better work-life balance, and it enables them to be more productive and loyal to their company when these requests are granted. Essentially, millennials are trying to avoid the burnout they were forced to watch their parents struggle through.  

Generation X and the internet:

Members of Gen X were born between 1965 and 1980. They were brought up with more traditional values than the following generations and lived with the ‘get a job, get married, and have kids’ ideals of their parent’s time. Known as a practical and self-sufficient group, Gen X is often overlooked in online marketing.

Having grown up without advanced technology, this group has a hybrid relationship with digital media. They have lived through some serious scandals (think Watergate) and seen the landscape change and evolve with time. While they utilize the internet, they also embrace old forms of media and are likely to read the newspaper rather than get their news online.  

While this group is not digital natives like Millennials and Gen Z, they have caught on quickly. For example, 90 of this generation own a smartphone, and their use of social media has increased dramatically since 2012. However, this group tends to stick to what they know rather than experimenting with different platforms and are concerned with privacy more than younger generations.

Baby Boomers online:

A name coined by the surge in post-war births, baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. This group survived countless events, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of JFK. All of these events shaped their lives and dramatically impacted their landscapes.

Baby Boomers are a cost-aware group that is known for being fiercely brand loyal. Many people in this group grew up with the rise of television, and as a result, many still have cable T.V. and watch the six o’clock news.

While they are not the most digitally active generation, baby boomers still make up a vast percentage of the online market – with 68 percent owning smartphones and 65 percent active on social media. For this group, Facebook tends to be the favorite, but they still watch a great deal of cable television, and thus, marketing is often accomplished through television advertisements.    

Stereotyping Generations on Social Media:

Almost all generations are active online in some form or another. While their behaviors differ depending on age, they all have one thing in common: judgment and stereotypes greet them endlessly.

Problematic portrayals are not an online phenomenon. In fact, stereotypical depictions have existed throughout history and across media for centuries. From Cowboys and Indians constantly in a battle to perfect mothers baking cookies and cleaning the kitchen, stereotypes can be found everywhere.

For younger generations who are most active online, these stereotypes paint a shallow picture of them as people and leave them questioning where they belong.

Take, for instance, the 2019 study that found members of Gen Z  have an eight-second attention span –  four seconds less than that of millennials. While this may appear negative at first, this finding suggests that those within Gen Z can communicate in a quick, concise manner. Another stereotype is their addiction to technology and their avoidance of face-to-face interaction. While this may be worrisome to their parents, it means that they are experts in the field and can utilize technology to their benefit.

Gen Z is also thought to be flighty when it comes to work, with 43% accepting positions then bailing on the offer afterward. However, studies have shown that Gen Z is no more irresponsible than any other previous generation. Furthermore, there are 6.7 million jobs in this job-seeker market but only 6.4 million employees. Thus, the grass truly is greener on the other side.

The Problem with Stereotypes:

Similar to the assumption that older adults are incapable of self-care, stereotypes about younger generations can be extremely harmful. While ageism is a widely discussed topic, the stereotypical views of young people tend to be ignored within research.  

Young people tend to be thought of as inexperienced and immature within society. Unfortunately, these beliefs can lead to unjust practices and discrimination just as they do with older adults. Lower wages or unpaid internships are considered milestones of youth for many, but are they fair? Are they just?

Many areas can be listed as ageism when looking at youth today. In fact, many believe that ageism towards young people may be more prevalent than it is towards the elderly and are looking to tackle this widespread issue head-on.

Regardless of your age, stereotypes perpetuate misconceptions that can hinder your success in life and hold you back. If you are constantly being told that you are lazy, you will eventually stop trying to succeed.

Unfortunately, stereotypes related to age begin in early childhood. Thus, the cycle can be challenging to break. Ageism crosses boundaries like no other form of discrimination. Ageism is expressed institutionally, individually, and inter-generationally, and society is set up to favor a stereotypical view of youth.  

To combat this persistent pattern, governments need to create age-appropriate programs that are not built on society’s preconceived standards. Individuals need to challenge their beliefs and listen to their language, and companies need to take risks on younger employees. We essentially need to question all that we think we know and change the future moving forward.

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