Generation Z, a generation that grew up as global citizens?


‘When I am bored, I Google myself’ is a typical expression that characterizes Generation Z. Nowadays in scientific research there is a strong focus on Generation Z. Especially, on their global characteristics and to what extent this generation could be classified as the first group of global citizens (Global Young People Report, 2017). To understand this scientific interest in Generation Z better, the following questions will be discussed in this article: (1) Who is meant by Generation Z?; (2) What does global citizenship mean and to what extent does Generation Z belong to this group of global citizens?; and (3) in what way do global forces influence the meaning of place?

In population studies, a demographic ‘cohort’ is a well-known term. This term refers to a group of individuals who are born within the same period of time. Generation Z is an example of such a cohort. However, there is discussion about the ‘precise’ time boundaries of the cohort. In the Netherlands the official classification is: individuals who are born in 2001-2015 belong to the cohort of Generation Z. Another view upon the time boundaries is that of McCrindle and Wolfinger (2009). They state that Generation Z includes all individuals who are  born in the period from the mid 1990’s until the beginning of 2010’s. In spite of the discussion, individuals of Generation Z are being exposed at a younger age than other generations to forms of education and marketing via social media and other internet sources. Besides, Generation Z was raised with the internet, mobile phone ownership and fast changing technology which makes multitasking almost inevitable. As McCrindle and Wolfinger (2009) explain: ‘They have only known a wireless, hyperlinked, user-generated world where they are only ever a few clicks away from any piece of knowledge’. Therefore, Generation Z is also called as: ‘the Digital Natives’. They are native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the internet. Nowadays, the importance of technology for Generation Z is still present. Certainly 84% of the young people have faith in technology and they say that technological development makes them hopeful for the future. A nearby future that they will be able to shape since most individuals of Generation Z are in college right now and are willing to enter the workforce in a few years. Thus, their attitudes, goals and importantly their decisions will shape the next few decades.

If we want to compare Generation Z to global citizenship, it is important to define global citizenship a bit more. Whereas citizenship is about is about formal rules and formal membership, global citizenship is not. Global citizenship is about a spirit of deterritorialization and an expression of affirmation towards human unity. This does not mean that you have to be a formal member in a political community of a city or state, but global citizenship is ‘feeling, thinking, and acting for the sake of human species, and above all for those most vulnerable and disadvantaged’ (Flank, 1993). Not having formal rules and membership should create a population in which there is no exclusion, because there are no rules for who can and cannot participate. This should lead towards unity in the human being what is important for global citizens. Another way to define of global citizenship is: having a multiple perspective and be aware of the context dependency of norms and values by other people in other places. This acknowledgement of the context dependency of norms and values over the world makes that global citizenship is absolutely not about having global values to solve global problems. It is a personal realization of the fact that there is not one good or overall worldview.

Let’s see if these definitions of global citizenship match with the characters of Generation Z. In the Global Young People Report (2017) it is striking that most individuals of Generation Z reveal themselves to be supporters of diversity, equality and liberal values across the world. This is a characteristic that can be understood as having a multiple perspective towards other people’s values in other places in the world. They acknowledge that there is not one good and overall worldview, they accept that there are more and different worldviews. So, most individuals of Generation Z can be seen as global citizens because they have the characteristic of seeing the place dependent and personal values in the world from a multiple perspective. A second characteristic of Generation Z is one that matches more with the definition of Flank (1993). Over two-thirds of the individuals in Generation Z think that making a wider contribution to society beyond themselves and their family is important. This characteristic can be interpreted as the feeling, thinking, and acting in the favour of human sake what is important for being a global citizen.  The third characteristic also matches with this feeling, thinking, and acting in favour of human sake. Namely Generation Z, in 14 out of the 20 surveyed countries, considered it important that the government should make it easier for immigrants to live and work legally in their country. This can be seen as taking care for human sake and especially taking care for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Nowadays, the existence of global forces possibly influence the characteristics of Generation Z and their individual’s viewpoint of the world. Global forces, have a significant impact in formulating the meaning of place today, as being discussed by many academics. The three most discussed global forces are: the increasing internet connectivity in the world, the upcoming of western rationalization; and time-space compression (1) The increase of internet connectivity in the world together with mobile ownership is the first global force. It makes the accessibility to knowledge limitless. Besides the ability to share knowledge, building up and maintaining social relationships is becoming more and more important. For Generation Z it is more likely to travel across borders and to have friends who live in other countries in the world. These social relationships strongly depend on the increasing internet connectivity. (2) The second global force is the western rationalization, a term used by Ritzer (1983). Rationalization is the increasingly structured way of living with short term thinking that can be irrational on the long term, in literature this is mainly linked to sustainability. According to Ritzer, if the society would be fully rational, place would be very bleak and uninteresting because of the simple fact that place characteristics would no longer shape human characteristics and identity. (3) The last global force discussed in this article is the time-space compression. The concept describes the phenomenon that people today can move further away than people in the past, and in a shorter amount of time. So, more people are on the move which influences the identity of places faster than ever before. Therefore, place is not a fixed location on earth with a standard formulated identity. But place is shaped by the meaning that people give to those places, a meaning that is formulated by social interactions in that place. This means that places do not have a specific territorial identity, but have a dynamic character. Multi-sited belongings make people who are frequently on the move, feel at home in several places. Place plays a more dynamic and variable role with the potential of having multi-sited belongings. This especially applies to Generation Z, according to the Global Young People Report (2017) Generation Z is more likely to travel and to migrate across borders.

Hence, the three global forces stated above can have shaped Generation Z which leads to their own view of place on local, national and global levels. Place at a local level has a large impact on creating identity by the individuals of Generation Z. This is supported by the results of the report which shows that the individual values of Generation Z are mostly influenced on the local level, by parents (89%), friends (78%) and teachers (70%). Multi-sited belongings and the characteristic of Generation Z as supporters of diversity, equality and liberal values, can make place at a local level more diverse. When many people pursue liberal values, more freedom will be generated. Freedom in a place can make the meaning of place more diverse because place becomes a space in which individuals can be themselves and develop themselves. Therefore, pursuing liberal values by Generation Z can be essential in the future for shaping and regulating places by politics. On the national level, more than half (60%) of the young people classified as Generation Z think that their country is a good place to live in (see table 1 for some examples). But the national level is not that important for Generation Z because they will be travelling across borders and give value to places on the local level.  Generation Z has a different, less positive, meaning about place at a global level. This is shown by a striking result of the survey: in sixteen out of 20 countries Generation Z has an overall pessimistic feeling about the future on a global level. They have the fear that the world will become a worse place to live in, instead of becoming a better place. This pessimistic view exists because of the fear for extremism and global terrorism and for war and conflict.

Concluding, the increasing internet connectivity in the world, the upcoming of the western rationalization into society and the time-space compression are the global forces that have shaped the environment of Generation Z in which they were raised. Instead of making places less important for Generation Z, these global forces in combination with the characteristics of the generation make the meaning of places more diverse. On one hand, this existence of these global forces makes it less necessary to stay in one specific place, but on the other hand, local places stay really important for Generation Z. Places create meaning on this local level by means of multi-sited belongings and liberal values. Introducing liberal values on the local level can make places more diverse because of the greater meaning places can get from different individuals. Despite the fear that global forces would open up the world and make the local place less important, this is not experienced as such by Generation Z. Local places stay important because values that are important for shaping the personal identities of Generation Z are created within this local scale. In general, these personal identities of Generation Z are shown by their attitudes and goals. Individuals who belong to Generation Z are supporters of diversity, equality and liberal values. Besides, the majority wants to act in favour of human sake in the present and in the future. This means that Generation Z can be classified as global citizens who acknowledge the importance of place, especially the importance of the local scale.

Table 1 (Source: Global Young People Report, 2017)

Own country good place to live in Percentage of individuals that agrees
Argentina 30 %
Canada 86 %
China 64 %
Germany 74 %
India 75 %
Italy 40 %
Russia 34 %
South Africa 12 %
Turkey 28 %


Top photo: By Lucélia Ribeiro – Children at school, CC BY-SA 2.0,



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