Understanding the World of Gen Z from a Global Perspective

Mary McIlrath    Partner, C + R Research


At YMS17 Mary McIlrath of C+R Research will be sharing some insights on Gen Z’s resources, spending, and influence over household shopping in six countries worldwide. Here she previews some of the findings.

Here at YouthBeat®, C+R Research’s Youth and Family division, we’re always keeping our eyes on the shifting nature of youth generations. We recognise these generations are shaped not just by birth rates and demographic trends, but also by the prevailing characteristics and spirit of the times in which they are born.

Millennials have been well-researched, and brands continue to evolve their strategies to serve their unique needs. Now Generation Z is the fertile territory of future consumers, and the critical group for brands to understand. They were born into a world where global connectivity could be taken for granted and because of this, it is important to understand them as a global generation.

To aid marketers in better understanding Gen Z from a global perspective, we launched YouthBeat® Global, a survey of parents of the kids, tweens, and teens of Generation Z in six countries:

  • USA
  • The UK
  • Australia
  • China
  • India
  • Mexico

We interviewed 500 parents in each country about the rhythms of their children’s lives, with a special focus on technology, food and beverages, money, and shopping.  We also spent time exploring the parental joys and concerns in each country, as well as parental involvement in the children’s lives. Here we reveal a few of the most interesting findings from our research—and on the stage at YMS, we’ll shed more light into the findings particularly relevant to retail.

The Deal on Demographics

Some of the findings were unsurprising—for example:

  • Only 19% of Chinese children have siblings.  But given the country’s relaxation of the single-child policy last year to allow two children per household, we expect to see this number grow in coming years.  
  • In contrast, in the United States, 88% of children have siblings and in all other countries, the majority of children have siblings as well.
  • The countries with the largest household sizes, India (4.7 people) and Mexico (4.5 people), are also the countries with the greatest involvement in organized religion (89% in India and 70% in Mexico).  It’s tongue-in-cheek to say that families who live with so many relatives may need prayer to get along with everyone—and it is more likely that organized religion encourages close family relationships, if not living arrangements.

Family Time

The ways families enjoy spending time together vary across the globe, and smart brands will cater to these differences.  

  • Parents in China are more likely than parents in other countries to enjoy vacationing, playing outside, and exercising with their children.  
  • Parents in India like to shop with their children and play sports with them.  
  • In Mexico, parents’ top activities with youth involve eating a meal at home as a family and going to the movies.  
  • More parents in the United States and Australia mention conversations in the car as a special bonding time (likely due to more distance/driving in these countries).  
  • And, parents in Australia like cooking with their children more than parents in all other countries.  
  • In the UK, the favourite family activity is going on vacation, followed closely by going to the movies.

Play and Pastimes

Other findings though were somewhat surprising in the modern world, especially some dealing with the idea of play.  

  • For the last few years, some major retailers, including Amazon, have “gender-neutralized” their toy offerings.  Despite this, our data for all countries reflect that play is as gendered as ever.
    • Boys continue to prefer video games, sports, action figures, vehicles, and construction play. 
    • Girls are drawn to dolls, art supplies and crafts, stuffed animals, and dress-up play.  
  • We recognise that the push for gender neutralisation is a relatively new trend, and only time will tell if these efforts will “nurture” a change, or if gendered play is just children’s “nature.”

On the technology front, watching TV is a common-room activity for most children in every country.  

  • That said, a quarter of UK children and 2 out of 10 Mexican youth watch TV most often in their bedroom.  
  • In the United States, 3 out of 10 teens do the same.  
  • Streaming content is nearly as prevalent as watching live broadcasts in China and Mexico, where DVRs are rare.  
  • In the United States, UK, and India, where DVRs are more common, streaming plus DVR usage combined are roughly as common as watching live TV.  
  • Looking more closely at where children are watching streaming TV content, it is more commonly watched on a laptop than on a mobile device in every country.

Given the wide availability of mobile devices, it comes as no surprise that the majority of parents in every country purchase or download apps for their children.  The purposes apps serve, however, differ by individual country.  

  • In India and China, the apps children use are first and foremost tools for learning.  This makes sense, given that school performance and/or intelligence are what make parents most proud of their children in those countries.  
  • In the United States, the UK, Australia, and Mexico, educational apps take a back seat to ‘fun’ ones as games are the top type of app purchased.

Eating Up

A country’s cuisine is one of its defining cultural foundations.  Each country in our study has its own unique mix of agricultural products raised locally and imported.  

  • Of these countries, China is most notably different for its rice-based diet.  
  • India and Mexico do produce rice, but also have ecosystems that produce wheat, which is a staple in the US, UK, and Australia.  

What is universal across the six countries, however, is the practice of eating dinner together as a central part of family life.  

  • In each country, families dine together at home an average of 5 nights a week.  
  • Families from Australia are the most likely to have dinner together at home and are most likely to say they enjoy cooking or preparing meals together.  
  • Breakfast is also an important way to start the day together in China, India, and Mexico, where families spend more days a week eating breakfast together than in the US, UK or Australia.  

Eating dinner at a restaurant as a family is also an enjoyable experience that happens roughly once a week across the globe.  

  • Comparatively, families in China and India, and secondarily Mexico, eat dinner together in a restaurant more often than the rest.  
  • Because they’re eating out more, parents in these countries are more likely to try to stick to restaurants that serve nutritious foods, and they seek out places with good children’s menu options.  
  • Australians, who enjoy dining at home, are least likely to say eating out is fun for their entire family or that it helps with their busy schedules.  
  • In the UK, eating out is a great way for families to bond and for parents to show their children they are special.  

What It All Means

Smart brands need to have a global strategy in today’s world – especially when it comes to Generation Z.  That doesn’t mean, though, that one size fits all around the globe in terms of what families of Generation Z need or want. When communicating in different countries, strategies need to be tailored based on what matters most to them. To be able to do this effectively, it is important to keep an open dialogue with families in all regions to understand their shopping and consumption journeys so that brands can best meet their needs.

For more information on our YouthBeat® services, please visit our website!

Haven't got your tickets for YMS LDN 2017 yet? Head on over to our event page for more information on the biggest youth marketing conference in Europe.