Dollars and Sense

In her article “10 ways Gen Zs spend money differently than their Gen X parents,” Swain-Wilson (2018) compares/contrasts the spending habits of Gen Xers to their Gen Z children. At face value, the information has the most apparent implications for such professions as advertisers, the hospitality market, and bankers. However, I would argue that the higher education community–particularly members involved in recruiting and in curriculum and program design–should pay attention to Swain-Wilson’s article, too.

Swain-Wilson (2018) maintains that Gen X and Z have some significant differences. Born between 1965 and 1980 and only 20.6% of the US population, Gen X is the smallest of the extant generations. The article contends that both Gen X and Gen Z are frugal non-risk takers. However, the author proceeds to describe Gen X as having the highest level of average debt of all the extant generations. In comparison, Gen Z, which was born after 1995, comprises a market-share (27%) of the US population. A recent poll of Gen Z found that 71% believe that savings and investments are a priority.

Yet, Gen X and Z also share an interesting habit: Swain-Wilson (2018) reports that Gen Xers and Zers spend much of their budget on restaurant food–a whopping $4,229 per year for Gen X and 24% of Gen Z’s monthly budget. Gen X also likes to spend a good share of its monthly income on groceries ($380) whereas Gen Z only spends an average of $269 per month at the grocery store. Furthermore, Swain-Wilson says that 75% of Gen Z members surveyed say that they prefer spending on “health-conscious, ethically sourced food.” Gen X isn’t as interested in these “do-good” purchases.

Yet, if the grocery store sells wine, Swain-Wilson (2018) says that Gen X is sure to buy some. In fact, Gen X’s annual wine expenditure is the most of all the extant generations. Not to be outshone, Gen Z females spend the most of all generation on cosmetics. Loyalty to a cosmetic brand–or any brand of any product–however, is not something Gen Z is known for: 52% will brand-hop.

However, perhaps the most surprising finding of all reported by Swain-Wilson is that Gen Z–unlike its online-shopping Gen X parents–prefers shopping in “real” stores–although 66% of those polled said that they prefer the option of ordering ahead and picking-up the order at a brick-and-mortar store.

So, how are these statistics relevant to higher education? Well, as a college educator, I can attest to the near-total neglect of the Gen X and Gen Z learner’s existence. In short, neither generation has been the focus of the type of educational research conducted into the learning needs of Baby Boomers and Millennials. Instead, Gen X has been taken for granted as a dependable but not-too-demanding educational consumer. Even worse is that most educators seem unaware that there is a Gen Z. Instead, the Millennial is commonly described as the youngest learner on campus.

Therefore, it only makes sense that the higher educational community needs to know more about these learners—their likes, dislikes, lifestyles, etc. Gen X and Z need to be examined for their learning and schedule preferences, their career aspirations, and so on. The college statistician, the college curriculum developer and scheduler, and the college career and academic resources team need to take Gen X and Z into far greater account. Swain-Wilson’s article goes a long way toward introducing (however belatedly) these generations to us. Now, it is up to those of us in higher education to act on what we have learned.

Reference: Swain-Wilson, S. (2018). 10 ways Gen Zs spend money differently than their Gen X parents. Business Insider.