During her panel at the Women in the World conference, professor and author Noreena Hertz explained how she stumbled upon two astonishing factors shaping the lives of people between the ages of 13 and 20: that they've been greatly shaped by both "the worst recession the West has faced in decades," and an existential danger that they constantly have access to via their smartphones. Hertz calls this Generation K (for "Katniss" of the Hunger Games book trilogy), and she thinks they're very different from the generation just slightly older (born in the '80s and '90s).
Hertz's definition of a generation is a group of people who share hopes, values, and fears, and one of the things she found most alarming about Generation K is the profound amount of anxiety they seem to have. A lot of this could be brought on by living with and being shaped by things like war, school shootings, and the September 11th attacks, and the most interesting way that Hertz noticed this change was in looking at the books her kids are reading. While she grew up reading Nancy Drew, her kids are reading dystopian fiction about struggling against the state.
I discovered that unlike those currently aged between 20 and 30, the “Yes we can” generation, who grew up believing the world was their oyster, for Generation K the world is less oyster, more Hobbesian nightmare. This is the generation who’ve had Al Qaeda piped into their living rooms and smartphones and seen their parents and other loved ones lose their jobs. A generation for whom there are disturbing echoes of the dystopian landscape Katniss encounters in The Hunger Games’ District 12. Unequal, violent, hard.
Generation K also has a stunning commitment to social issues; Hertz found that they're worried about terrorism and climate change, stressed out about getting jobs and getting into debt, are more sober than previous generations, and harder working, since "45% percent say they intend to work as hard as it takes to succeed over the next 10 years even if they have to labor day and night."
People tend to lump anyone born before the year 2000 together as one group, but Hertz's data shows a fairly clear line of delineation between this younger generation and everyone else.
Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.