Jan 1, 2024 - Business

"A landmark generation": Introducing Gen Alpha

Illustration of the alpha symbol with a digital glitch effect

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

It's the only generation born fully in the 21st century: the oldest are about 13, and the youngest will be born in the coming year.

The big picture: Enter Generation Alpha, the first entirely online cohort. Its members have grappled with a climate crisis and pandemic — and can spend money more easily at their age than even their savviest close elders.

  • Seen as "a landmark generation," Gen Alpha — born between 2010 and 2024 — is expected to be the largest in history at more than 2 billion people, per Mark McCrindle, a social researcher who coined "Generation Alpha" and determined its bounds.
  • Mostly the children of millennials, their immediate predecessors belong to Gen Z, who could overtake baby boomers in the workplace in 2024, per Glassdoor.
  • This generation is still being born (plus "generation" framing itself is always under revision), so Alpha's future impact isn't yet totally known. But existing indicators are already too big to ignore.

Growing up online

The intrigue: The youngest members of Gen Alpha — whose oldest members were born after Apple had already iterated on the iPhone — have been dubbed "iPad kids."

  • Its oldest members happened to be born the year the iPad debuted.

These kids also have TikTok as a growing platform of choice. Unlike millennials' pre-algorithm Facebook, TikTok repeatedly exposes users to anyone and everyone, rather than just networks of friends and family.

  • "Anyone can go viral at any moment," MaryLeigh Bliss, the chief content officer at YPulse, told Axios.

By the numbers: Millennial parents are giving kids their first smartphones at about 9 years old, Bliss said.

  • 79% of millennial parents said their kids are on social media, per YPulse.
  • 44% of millennial parents said their kids watch video content on a smartphone at least weekly, per YPulse.

Quick take: "They're having a media-centric childhood in a way that is different because of the kinds of media they're interacting with from incredibly young ages," Bliss said.

As for artificial intelligence, Siri and Alexa have been in their parents' pockets or homes for most of these kids' lives.

  • Tech like ChatGPT is being used in schools as a learning tool.
  • "Alpha have only ever known a world of the blurring of AI and the human," McCrindle said.

Defining event: COVID-19 pandemic

COVID cemented online interaction as a norm for kids.

  • They attended virtual school, and a larger share of parents now work from home as a byproduct of the pandemic.

Threat level: Metrics of learning and success in education have taken significant hits since 2020.

Social connections and behavior have suffered too, said Tori Cordiano, a child and adolescent psychologist.

  • "Many of them were not in school at all in person, and many of them took much longer to come back consistently," she said. "We're now seeing the holdover effects."
  • "They just haven't had as much practice" making friends and being exposed to new environments, Cordiano said.

Yes, but: Youth know how to make connections online, for better or for worse.

  • 43% of millennial parents say their kids have had a virtual playdate or hung out with friends in virtual spaces, per YPulse. (Not just on Zoom — Minecraft playdates are a thing.)
  • Ideally, those online ties "translate into meaningful, ongoing and hopefully in-person relationships," Cordiano said.

Developing consumer habits and purchasing power

Brands are already targeting youth with marketing.

Zoom in: Companies are reaching children on social media such as TikTok and YouTube, often through influencers, said Jennifer Mapes-Christ, a market researcher at The Freedonia Group.

  • "It allows different types of people to see themselves in the products in a way they maybe didn't before," she said.

Reality check: The older kids in the age group are still nearing the legal working age. But they're starting to have financial liberties.

Born during the hottest years on record

Flashback: In 2010, the combined land and ocean surface temperature tied with 2005 as the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Now, 2010 is the 10th warmest year on record.

Zoom out: Anxiety about social issues overall, including the climate, is rising in youth, per Cordiano.

  • Kids are having a hard time disconnecting from torrents of information, causing "higher risk for burnout for the things that are important to them," she said.
  • In a survey, 87% of 13-15-year-olds agreed that it is up to their generation to stop climate change from worsening, per YPulse.

The bottom line: Gen Alpha is entrenched in social and political spheres.

  • Members have expressed care in ending racism and alleviating poverty, regardless of their own experiences, according to research from McCrindle's firm.
  • "Alphas bring a sense of empathy because they are connected globally to the issues of their world," McCrindle said.

Go deeper: Marketing to Generation Alpha

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