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Millennials

Who Will Succeed the Millennials? Let’s Call Them the Post Generation

These consumers come of age after 9/11, Obama and the digital revolution

As someone who’s spent the past decade-plus studying and explaining millennials, I’m not about to abandon them just as they enter their peak earning and spending years.

Illustration: Lindsey Balbierz

But let’s face it: These millennials are getting a little long in the tooth. Doesn’t Ashton Kutcher have a walker by now?

I’m exaggerating, of course. But consider this: The youngest millennials are roughly driving age now, and the oldest are virtual dinosaurs in their mid-30s, presiding over their own young families and wondering why their knees and backs are starting to hurt in the morning.

So who’s the next youth cohort we should be gearing up for? The next army of accidental trendsetters, secretly scheming to challenge conventions and forge a new world order? I’m glad you asked. Allow me to introduce you: I call them the post generation—those young Americans born since 2000. In my estimation, it’s a group that will be defined by how it navigates and integrates the seismic social, cultural, economic and technological shifts that occurred just before they hit the hot lights of adolescence. In fact, unlike previous generations, it’s my belief that what came before their formative years will likely be more important than what occurs during them.

Think about it. The post generation, who are roughly 14 and under today, is inheriting a world that is post Obama. Post Facebook and social media. Post mobile computing and smartphones. Post 9/11. Post Columbine and Sandy Hook. Post “don’t ask/don’t tell” and same-sex marriage rights. Post legal marijuana. Post local and insular. And, quite obviously, post millennial.

Meanwhile, they’re also a group that invests untold time and energy “posting” their brave new experiences across an ever-expanding social ecosystem. Aha! Dual resonance! Hence the name post generation, my personal entry into the naming sweepstakes that occurs every two decades.

Where do these cohort names come from, not to mention from whom? The answer is all over, and everyone. Noted generational theorist Neil Howe came up with millennials, his shorthand for the crop of kids born between roughly 1980 and 2000. Alas, his previous attempt at naming a generation was less lucky, as he’d dubbed their predecessors the “13th gen.” This odd appellation didn’t stick, as journalists seized on “generation X” instead, itself a phrase the novelist Doug Coupland had borrowed from Hungarian war photographer Robert Capa, who coined it in the early ’50s.

The generational naming derby is open to all, and the post generation is just my placeholder. Howe calls them “homelanders.” The Futures Company inexplicably calls them the “EN.gens,” in a bid to create the most ridiculous new moniker since the band NSync. And lazy people are simply calling them Gen Z, because who can be bothered to think any further than the next available letter? (What’s next, Gen AA?)

Regardless of what you call them, this next generation’s defaults will be diversity, networked communication, globalism, personalization and choice, as well as equal rights and freedom that encompass not only race and gender, but extend to sexual orientation and even recreational drug use. It’s clear that what once were progressive causes will now serve as the status quo for the post generation.

Presented with more permutations of choice than any generation in history, one has to wonder how post will navigate the always rocky terrain between adolescence and adulthood. Where millennials seemingly embraced the road map of their parents—while waiting longer to move out, marry and procreate than any previous generation—the post generation may well adopt the questioning, slacker ethos of their Gen X parents, perhaps even questioning foundational institutions like college, marriage and even, gasp, capitalism. (They’re also continuing the erosion of organized religion, as 27 percent fewer 12- to 15-year-olds cite religion as one of the most important parts of their lives versus a decade before, according to the syndicated TRU Youth Monitor.)

And as conscience continues to creep into commerce through brands like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, one wonders if profit is the next sacred cow to draw massive youth scrutiny. As marketers, we’d best keep our eyes on the post generation, starting now.

Scott Hess (@scotthess) is svp, human intelligence at Spark.

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