The coronavirus pandemic will mint a new generation, according to a researcher — and it has nothing to do with the supposed 'baby boom'

hhoffower@businessinsider.com (Hillary Hoffower)
The post-Gen Z generation is here.

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The coronavirus pandemic may mint the post-Gen Z generation.

That's according to Jason Dorsey, president of Center for Generational Kinetics (CGK) and author of the upcoming book "Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business." Dorsey and the CGK team are currently in the early stages of researching the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Gen Z, but said they're already seeing deep generational impacts.

"COVID-19 is looking to be the dividing line between Gen Z and the beginning of the next generation," he told Business Insider.

A coronavirus baby boom has been a hot topic as couples hole up to quarantine together, but the next generation won't be the result of some heavy baby-making. Experts told The New York Times the pandemic will likely discourage any of that behavior.

Instead, this new generation will likely be defined by growing up in a post-pandemic world.

Historical events help mold different generations

Generations have historically been divided by impactful events. These events, Dorsey said, typically create fear and uncertainty; change how people view the world, the past, and the future; and affect how people take risks and make decisions.

According to the Pew Research Center, generations are defined by three intertwined characteristics: the life cycle — or age — effect, the period effect, and the cohort effect. The age effect refers to differences among people based on their life stage. The latter two relate to the life-changing events Dorsey speaks of.

The period effect occurs when there's an event or social force that impacts entire populations, such as a world war or recession. The cohort effect is created when these historical circumstances create differences among various age groups — typically a period effect that an older generation experienced that the next generation didn't, or when the period effect has a disproportionate effect on a certain cohort because of where they are in their life cycle.

Millennials were defined by the Great Recession and divided from Gen Z by 9/11.

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For example, the Silent Generation, first born in 1928, watched World War II unfold. The first of their children, the baby boomers, were born in 1946 during the war's aftermath. Boomers were more defined by the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Gen X, first born in 1965, is the last to remember the Cold War.

And millennials are marked by the fallout of the Great Recession. They're divided from Gen Z, the oldest of whom were born 1997, by the aftermath of 9/11. Gen Z doesn't remember 9/11 but millennials do, Dorsey previously told Business Insider

It makes sense, then, that the coronavirus pandemic would mark the divide between Gen Z, who is dealing with a direct blow to life during their most transformative years, and those who won't remember the havoc it's wreaking on the world.

COVID-19 will be a history lesson for the new generation

Gen Z spans pivotal ages: They turn ages 8 to 23 in 2020. As Pew explains, adolescence and young adulthood are when individuals typically become more aware of the world and shape their identities and beliefs.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the generation is already palpable. Gen Zers in high school and Gen Zers in college and the workforce are having different experiences from each other, Dorsey said: The former are more worried about their post-graduation plans while the latter are concerned about job prospects. As a whole, he added, it's likely Gen Z will become even more financially risk-averse than they already are and that the pandemic will change how they view work and learning.

The coronavirus pandemic is already shaping how Gen Z views their future — like their college and job prospects.

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"As for the generation after them, we don't know what they'll look like because they're so young," Dorsey said. "But we do know that they will learn about COVID-19 in their history books."

It's also unknown what the new name for the next generation will be, considering that Gen Z marks the end of the alphabet. But Dorsey says this generation won't be called Gen ZZ.

Generational names typically stick once the generation looks different to its prior group and is old enough to have characteristics that resonate with mainstream media, he said. Sometimes, another name surfaces that people feel identifies the generation better.

For example, millennials, historically called Gen Y, didn't get their name until they were young adults to signify coming of age at the turn of the millennium. Gen Z may even get a different name in the future that's more representative of their distinguishing characteristics, Dorsey said. 

Still, we're a long ways off from naming this new generation. Being part of Gen Z means you'd have to understand what's happening in the world right now and form a new perspective towards the future because of it, Dorsey said. So even though "the oldest members of the next [post-Z] generation are probably already born, up to four or five years old and using someone's iPad already," their life experience will be shaped by living in a post-pandemic world — not bearing the brunt of the pandemic, as Gen Z is.

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