two millennial girls hanging out

How Millennials and Gen Z Have Grown Up and Changed Over the Past Six Years

What does success look like? Among Millennials and Gen Z, the answer is evolving — and brands need to keep up with those changing definitions in order to stay relevant to these important consumer cohorts.

Millennials and Gen Z are growing up through youth and young adult life stages, and their attitudes and values are rapidly changing as they experiment and explore. When looking back at one of our proprietary studies on this group from 2013, our interest was piqued to find out how their attitudes towards life, success, and brands may have shifted since then. Taking a longitudinal view helps us unpack what is timeless (part of growing up) vs. timely (informed by current culture and societal shifts).

What was striking was how much the definition of success had evolved among Millennials and Gen Z in little more than half a decade. We have witnessed a definitive migration from an emphasis on “winning” to an emphasis on “thriving.” And that has profound implications for any brand seeking to understand and connect with younger consumer groups.


Happiness: Then and Now

We had two primary goals. We looked at how Millennials and Gen Z were changing as they moved into different life stages. And we explored whether there were more macro changes happening outside of life stage — in other words, generational culture shifts that are not explainable simply due to the organic growing-up process of a generation.

info on responses of Millennials and GenZ

One constant stood out — the overarching importance of personal happiness. It remains the #1 agreed upon metric for determining success. A large majority of Millennials and Gen Z see happiness as the primary life goal. And these numbers also correspond closely to the value placed on achieving professional success. But when we looked at what provides that happiness and defines success among these cohorts, we found some notable shifts from the last time we looked.
infographic on what millennials and genz value

While happiness was consistent across our data sets, the numbers had changed markedly on other key factors such as friendships, money, being well-liked, and “who I’m dating/married to.” A couple of examples demonstrate the shift away from “winning” in life, career, and love.

Money as a metric of success dropped 15%

While still VERY important, we are seeing more skepticism among these young groups over whether they will be able to achieve the “American dream” for themselves. Most of those surveyed are concerned that the money they do have won’t last, and Millennials especially are handicapped by student loans.

Who I’m dating/married to as a metric of success dropped 39%

When we ask whether finding a soulmate was something keeping them up at night, the answer today is “No, it is not!” This tracks with other research that shows less pressure to settle down and an increased focus on self. This trend is even more pronounced for women — a clear social shift against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, women’s marches, and the growing power of the female voice.

Millenials and Gen Z are particularly self-aware of these changes. While every generation feels that they are different from those who preceded them (it’s part and parcel of generational consciousness) the feeling is especially pronounced among Millennials and Gen Z and has grown over the past six years. Fully half of Millennials and Gen Z believe that achieving success looks different now than it did for past generations — that’s up 31% from 2013.


So What DOES Success Look Like Today?

We’ve seen a number of factors that have declined in importance. What has risen to the top?

Our 2013 data painted a picture of success that was more externally focused — about “winning” and socially recognized status. The 2019 definition of success suggests a more comprehensive and balanced view. It’s more about “thriving” overall and a greater desire for wider positive social impact. When asked about the definition of success:

  • 87% noted “doing good in the world”
  • 82% referenced living a healthy and balanced lifestyle
  • 75% talked about “doing it all”

Among Millennials and Gen Z, there’s a notable movement in the direction of self-care, care for the world around them, and the alignment between the two. At the same time, there’s an eagerness to fully realize the potential of the self and to take advantage of all the world has to offer.


What Does This Mean for Brands?

Brands have only grown in importance for Millennials and Gen Z. More than half said that they care about brands — a 34% increase from 2013! An impressive 83% said that they are loyal to their favorite brands.

What’s more, the brands that are best positioned to win among Millennials and Gen Z are those that help enable the kind of success that matters to these young people now. That means doing good. Brands need to stand for something authentic and give consumers a halo to tap into.

It’s also about enabling a healthy lifestyle. Brands need to empower positive habits across body, mind, and soul. And finally, brands can play a supporting role in “doing it all” — helping consumers embrace convenience and seamlessness as they try to fit ever more into each day.

The overarching question for a brand seeking to engage Millennials and Gen Z is this: What are you doing to help them feel successful in an increasingly complicated world? In particular, do you have a clear social purpose? Are you tapping into the positive health and wellness movement? Are you solving day-to-day tensions and pressures? The brands that answer “yes” will play an even greater role in how Millennials and Gen Z envision and achieve success as they grow.


We’d love to share more about how our unique expertise and solutions can help your business move forward. Drop us a line here, and we’ll be in touch!