young people looking down

The Habits Of Gen Z

101Documentary16 L

Generations explained – Habits of Gen Z

01 November 2023
Which one do you identify with?
multigenerational black family on the beach

Everyone has come across terms such as Baby Boomer or Millennial. In M-Net’s latest documentary series, Habits of Gen Z, this is explored further with a magnifying glass looking into, well, Generation Z.

But where does the concept come from? It was developed by sociologist Karl Mannheim who penned an essay in 1928 called "The Problem of Generations." He stated that when cohorts of people experience significant cultural or historical events, it creates a unique perception and it can become something of a shared identity.

Writing for the Pew Research Centre, a nonpartisan fact tank, Michael Dimock says: “The eras in which we come of age can leave a signature of common experiences and perspectives.” He notes this can include wars, pandemics, economic recessions, and terrorist attacks.

The Silent Generation

Rough date range: 1930 to 1950

Where did the term come from:

According to student newspaper at Boston University, The Daily Free Press, this generation is named that because: “This group is known for accepting government rather than speaking out against it – they are called silent because of their lack of protestation and general pursuit of modest careers and secure domestic lives.”

Defining world and local events that left an impact:

The rise of World War 2 and its conclusion. The end of the war also brought on the start Cold War: rife tension between the emerging superpowers USA and the then Union of Soviet Socialists Republic (USSR), without a full scale war.

Colonised countries called for independence.

In South Africa, the National Party won the election.

Baby Boomers

Rough date range: 1950 to 1960

Where did the term come from:

The boomers are called that because of the boom seen after the second World War.

Defining world and local events that left an impact:

Two ideologies clashed: capitalism and communism. Decolonisation of countries continued.

South Africa saw the systematic rise of apartheid.

Gen X

Rough date range:  1960 to 1980

Where did the term come from:

In 1991, Douglas Coupland’s book, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, was published.

Defining world and local events that left an impact:

The war in Vietnam, and the anti-war movement. There was a cut-throat space race between the two superpowers with a moon landing taking place.

In South Africa, the anti-apartheid movement gained traction. In June 1976, the Soweto uprising saw school children taking to the streets in protest of apartheid laws that affected their education.


Rough date range:  1980 to 2000

Where did the term come from:

Also known as Generation Y, this cohort came into adulthood at the start of the new millennium.

Defining world and local events that left an impact:

A fast track to the internet and all things digital like email, the dot com crash. Politically, the fall of communism, the Berlin Wall, and the end of apartheid in South Africa. The first democratic elections were held in 1994.

Dan Woodman, Associate Professor of Sociology at The University of Melbourne, is quoted on news website Huffpost about a micro generation between Gen X and Millennials, dubbed using a portmanteau: Xennials. These people were born between 1977 and 1983

"You have a childhood, youth and adolescence free of having to worry about social media posts and mobile phones... We learned to consume media and came of age before there was Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and all these things where you still watch the evening news or read the newspaper," he says. The idea is that childhood was analogue while they grew up alongside technology as it advanced.

Gen Z

Rough date range:  2000 to 2010

Where did the term come from:

It follows on from Generation Y.

Defining world and local events that left an impact:

This generation is comfortable with digital technology and social media. They are more vocal about issues, and challenge hetro-normative stereotypes.

In South Africa, they are also known as the born free generation.  

The Pew Research Centre has however advised to take these things with a pinch of salt because it is not scientifically defined. These terms can lead to oversimplifying large groups, writes Dimock, and in general, focus has been on the experience of the upper-middle class. Their parting words of wisdom: “It’s wise to think of terms like Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer as general reference points instead of scientific facts.”

Don't miss the stimulating Habits of Gen Z premiere on Thursday, 9 November 2023 on M-Net (DStv Channel 101) at 21:00 – the home of entertainment. You can also live-stream on DStv Stream, and DStv Catch Up after broadcast. Join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook using #HabitsOfGenZ.

Featured image: Getty


The Pew Research Centre, The Daily Free Press, Huffpost