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Millennials, Generation Z, and the rest of us

Since the demographic group that was born during the post-World War II period (approx. between 1946 and 1964) was tagged baby boomers, subsequent generations have been labelled with unique identifiers, based on their global outlook, preferred values or exhibition of certain traits during their formative years.

Generation X, those born between mid-1960s and late-1970s, followed the baby boomers who were associated with rejection or re-definition of traditional values. Known for their entrepreneurial tendencies, members of Generation X were considered as ‘alienated youths’, as they received little parental supervision largely due to increased maternal participation in the workforce, and increased divorce rates among their parents.

Though assigning labels to demographic cohorts in this manner was initially an American phenomenon, it soon gained popularity in the Western hemisphere, and following globalisation became a worldwide occurrence.

In African countries, the arrival of the succeeding demographic group, Generation Y or Millennials (born between early 1980s and mid-1990s) was a notable period of economic stagnation. However, this group having received reasonable education despite the challenging circumstances matured into young adults ready for the job market, at a time when the ‘Africa rising’ script was making the rounds.

Unlike their counterparts elsewhere who were described as having a sense of entitlement and showing excessive interest in their physical appearance; African millennials shared the traits of confidence and tolerance, in addition to being digitally savvy, generally enjoy living and working in urban areas.  Accounting for 37% of the continent’s population, they are increasingly influencing production and consumption patterns of the region.

However, it is members of the next demographic cohort, Generation Z or Post-Millennials that are most likely to have a greater impact on Africa. Born between the late-1990s and mid-2010s, these are children of the continent’s re-emerging middle classes who have adopted global lifestyles. In South Africa, members of this group (the eldest of them celebrated their 21st birthday in 2015) are called ‘born free’, since they were born after the country attained independence in 1994.

And growing up during the period that the continent leapfrogged into the ‘Internet era’, facilitated by the use of the mobile phones without the need for physical infrastructure of landline telephones, African post-millennials are considered to be digital natives. They are also turning out to be optimistic, straight-talking independent young adults who are determined to take on the world on their own terms. If this happens, then one of Nelson Mandela’s dreams for Africa would have been fulfilled.