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Neither Gen Z nor Millennials, are Zillennials a thing?

Many young people born in the 1990s recognize themselves in this designation on social networks. But is this really a microgeneration in its own right, or is it just another concept invented by social media?

Published: Jul 13, 2023 04:17:58 PM IST
Updated: Jul 13, 2023 04:24:56 PM IST

Neither Gen Z nor Millennials, are Zillennials a thing?Without being digital natives like Gen Z, Zillennials are more connected than Millennials. Image: Shutterstock

Too old to identify with Gen Z, but too young to relate to Millennials, meet the Zillennials, the in-betweeners who believe they don't fit the stereotypes associated with either generation. On social networks, many young people born in the 1990s recognize themselves in this designation. But is this really a microgeneration in its own right, or is it just another concept invented by social media?

The term Zillennials refers to individuals born between the 1990s and early 2000s. They may be likened to young Millennials or older Gen Zers, but they feel like neither, or both at the same time. One thing they have in common is the Covid-19 pandemic. "[The youngest of them] attended college during the pandemic, and missed out on important social markers," explains Deborah Carr, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Innovation in Social Science at Boston University, speaking to CNN. Zillennials share this life experience, a moment in history that they lived through together. In the United States, for example, this age group has never experienced the end-of-year prom or traditional graduation ceremonies.

But a generation isn't created solely around shared events. The use of technology can also be an important criterion for defining a generation. And from this perspective, Zillennials grew up during a pivotal decade. For one thing, unlike Millennials, they grew up with the internet. But unlike Gen Z, they are not digital natives, since they knew the world before social networks, before smartphones, before the Netflix era (they also saw the end of video cassettes and DVDs)—a time before everything was digital. And they have felt their age with the advent of TikTok and its many dance-crazy Gen Zers. In fact, Zillennials bore witness to the rapid technological upheaval of the 2000s and 2010s.

On TikTok, this microgeneration is the talk of the moment. The #zillennial hashtag has racked up 1.6 billion views (including its various spelling variants). Internet users post videos explaining how to recognize Zillennials from their clothes or culture. Generally, their defining characteristics sway between the cultural stereotypes associated with Generation Z and those of Millennials. For example, the user @zozoakz says that wearing straight jeans—neither too loose nor too tight—is characteristic of a Zillennial, since this garment is halfway between the baggy jeans generally worn by Generation Z and the skinny jeans more typically associated with Millennials. Another post by TikToker Azeez Gafari suggests that like Generation Y (Millennials), Zillennials watched their favorite movies on VHS tapes as children, have used flip phones and played on consoles like the Game Boy Advance.

Also read: Gen Z vs Millennials: Here's what young people expect from the media

Are Zillennials really a thing?

So why would people feel the need to set themselves apart from Millennials or Gen Z? Why not just choose between the two? "Some generations reject the labels given to them by others and some generations embrace the name if they feel it fits them and their values or differences," says Jason Dorsey, a generations researcher and president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, speaking to CNN. According to the specialist, Zillennials wish to distance themselves from the negative prejudices attributed by the media to Gen Y, keen not to replicate these traits. But Zillennials also reject the trends embraced by Gen Z, which they consider too teenage, too young. On the other hand, they are closer to Gen Zers on environmental issues, which interest them more than most Millennials.

This category of people, born between the 1990s and 2000s, could therefore identify more with this microgeneration than either of the two main generations they straddle. However, the very notion of a generation is a subject of debate among specialists. For Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, generational labels are effectively meaningless. "Marketers and fadfluencers will want to be the first to name a ‘generation’ or ‘microgeneration’ for clicks and followers," he told CNN. "But it is meaningless to do so before we know what it is we’re studying and why."