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Defining generations: Understanding people caught between two cohorts


When the recent Millennial-Generation Z generational war erupted, it’s safe to say I felt conflicted. Having been born in 1999, I often question my true identity to be of either generation. Despite sociologically being identified as a Gen Z-er, I don’t wholeheartedly feel like I should be. As someone who parts her hair to the side, regardless of what that says about what generation I belong to, I’m confused as to who I should claim as my peers: Millennials or Gen Z? For this reason, the internet coined the term “Zillennials” to give this unnamed territory of generations a name.

Zillennials are a microgeneration of people born between the mid-to-late 1990s, who are stuck in the middle of the two youngest generations and don’t know where they belong. We are the middle children between an overbearing older generation of Millennials and a younger, hip Gen Z.

Millennials and Gen Zers are classified into their respective generational cohorts based on a number of factors, including the technology available to them, the state of the economy and global politics at the time of their births’. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996, which means Gen Z are those born starting in 1997.

When we’re young, what we go through impacts who we are in the future. This suggests that some people don’t concern themselves with a single generation and may feel left out of generational dialogues. Like Zillennials, some people are born on the cusp of each generation, displaying traits from both the generations they are closest to. These people born on the threshold of two generations are referred to as “cuspers.”

Consider this: while a Baby Boomer/Generation X cusper born in 1965 doesn’t remember the Vietnam War or its impact on the nation, they were probably influenced by and remember events such as Watergate. Whereas a Generation X/Millennial cusper born in 1979 may recall the absence of a microwave at home, but they had an email address by the time they went to college.

Similar to cuspers between other generations, Zillennials may connect to the generations on either side of them while still feeling isolated. They remember staying up until midnight to download albums to their iPod on iTunes – a Gen Z experience. They also remember waking up early to drive to the nearest music store to purchase the Jonas Brothers’ newest single on CD (because singles used to be sold on a single CD) – a Millennial experience. And while they may be savvy with some technology, they also miss using DVDs and VHS tapes. Anyone born between 1992 and 2000 tends to fall into this category.

“As a Zillennial,” said University of New Haven junior legal studies major Erin Moran, “I remember having silly bands as a kid and watching the older Disney Channel shows, such as Hannah Montana and High School Musical. The younger generation of kids have new shows and hobbies, and don’t know what these objects or shows are.”

“There is a large generational difference between people born 1996-1999 compared to those born 2000-2003, though we’re all considered Gen-Z,” Kenneth Notarino-Jeffrey, New Haven alumnus with a Bachelor of Arts in music and sound recording said. “From Music (Michael Jackson dying was not something Gen-Z could connect with) to Media.”

When the 9/11 terrorist attacks rocked the nation in 2001, most Millennials were between the ages of five and 20, and many were old enough to comprehend the historical importance of the incident, while most Gen Zers could have very little or no recollection of it.

Junior forensic science major at the University of New Haven, Lindsey Scalabrino, said, “I don’t remember 9/11 which is a big thing that divides the generations,” she said, “I [also] don’t remember life before fallout including the Iraq war.”

Millennials also grew up in the shadow of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as unstable political and social climates, which sharpened wider political party divisions and led to different ideologies.

Sociology professor Patrick McGrady said that other than age, this is a significant difference between Gen Z and Millennials, “The whole analog childhood, digital adulthood kind of makes sense. But there’s also a real change in other venues. The end of X and the start of Millennials saw family wages begin to stagnate. Women went back into the workforce rapidly during this time. And then there are the cultural flashpoints or things generations remember as major events.”

Notarino-Jeffrey said that he remembers key events specific to Gen Z from growing up.

“Two of the largest moments for our age range presented how we were exposed to evil,” said Notarino-Jeffrey. “The Casey Anthony Trial and Murder of Trayvon Martin were the first major cases of child negligence, racism and the powers that be.”

Technology has also played a significant role in both the Millennial and Gen Z cohorts, and by extension, in the Zillennial microgeneration. As they grew older, Millennials transitioned to new technologies such as social media, continuous networking and on-demand content and conversation. Gen Z, on the other hand, grew up with such technology, such as computers, smartphones and tablets at their fingertips.

“When it comes to technology,” said Notarino-Jeffrey, “Zillennials see all the positives and negatives. We aren’t the perpetrators of negativity like Millennials and aren’t itching for popularity like Gen-Z. That’s because we’ve already broken beyond the point of technology shaping our identity.”

After years of uncertainty of where to stand in this war of generations, I now see the neutral ground as a blessing rather than a curse, allowing me to remain hidden as this microgeneration showdown continues. In a world where Millennial childhoods are characterized by their Walkmans and Gen Z by their Tik Tok trends, Zillennials are MP3 players, an invention conceived in the transitional space between the old world and the new and rest peacefully in the Instagram age, happily watching semi-relatable material from both older and younger users. We, like Zillennial icon Hannah Montana, can get the “best of both worlds,” from the middle ground, distancing ourselves from avocado obsessions and Kylie Jenner Lip Challenges while taking action on social and political issues when it counts. Instead of an isolated group, we are a unifying transitional identity among those who stand to inherit the earth.

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