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The Real Difference Between Millennials and Gen Zs

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

We’ve all seen the headlines. “Only Those Born Before 1995 Will Know These Obscure Artists!” “Sorry Gen Z, Only Millennials Are Passing This Quiz,” or the dreaded “Choose 15 Complete Random and Irrelevant Objects and We’ll Tell You Which Generation You’re From.” Buzzfeed, I love you, but I’m calling you out. It’s time to stop.

The crazy thing about these headlines is how resolute they are, and while picking donuts to determine self characteristics may just be for fun, testing pop culture knowledge and firmly stating what you should or shouldn’t know as part of a certain generation feels super judgemental, and frankly I’m a little bit over it. If you ask me, here are the definitive ways to tell whether you’re a gen Z or a millennial:

1. Do you identify as a Gen Z?

If yes, you’re a gen Z. If no, you’re not a gen Z. Repeat question for millennial.

2. There is no 2. That’s the end of the quiz.

Now, in all seriousness – I’m not saying that I, being born in 1997, could come up with a very strong argument for being a baby boomer, but I am saying that being in the middle of two generations gives me the absolute right to choose between those logical two. I’m tired of people telling me which generation I’m a part of, and I’m going to tell you why.


A quick Google search will tell you that many companies, researchers, and humans in general identify the millennial generation as those ages 18-35. But here’s the thing: they’ve been saying that for 10 years, which is pretty confusing for anyone born between 1994 and 2002. Logically you can’t define a generation based on age if we can’t all come to an agreement to adjust the age set every single year.


Another thing about generations is they’re often defined by the technological advancements they witnessed; and nobody knows technology better than teenagers. Gen Z, as a concept, did not really exist when I was a young teenager, because Gen Z were babies and young kids then and nobody was really worrying about what to call the generation who was still under the age of 5. I remember a lot of the technology like CD players, floppy disks, and Vine (RIP) that I had as a teen, so I relate the most to those innovations. That said, someone born the exact same day as me could feel like they relate better to the Apple Watch and Tik Tok, and that’s absolutely fine and brings me to my next point. . .


Generations are defined by stereotypes, none of which accurately depict a single person within that generation perfectly. Some are positive, some are negative, and some are just weird (millennials killed orange juice? Really?), but in my mind it’s 100% up to each individual to reject, accept, or attempt to change any and all of those stereotypes. Generationality is just another way in which we as humans form our personal identities, so telling me I’m part of one when I haven’t told you how I identify is just like telling me my favorite color or my style preference or my gender identity. It’s not up to you to decide, and frankly it’s none of your business.

Now, as a marketer, I feel like I need to include a disclaimer at the risk of fulfilling the “whiny and sensitive” stereotype of my identified generation; so here’s my argument from a company’s perspective. “That’s great, you special snowflake, but we don’t have the time, money, or resources to segment our target audiences by “how they identify,” so I’m putting you in x category whether you like it or not.” And to that I say, absolutely fine. Sell me your products based on however you choose to segment, and it’s not really going to affect me and I’m not going to write you an angry letter about how offended I am. My argument here is based in a social context, and my TL;DR is don’t make assumptions about your friends, and don’t tell people how they identify. That’s all. And to those marketers, I’d also say…demographic segmentation is out, and behavioral segmentation is in, suckas!


An in-betweener

Katrina Hicks

Northwestern '19