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Generation Alpha

Human Resources

Generation Alpha takes the reins

Published 20 December 2023 in Human Resources • 6 min read

Organizations need to gain an understanding of a new and increasingly commercially influential generation of children and young people. IMD talks to Mark McCrindle about how Alphas will change the world.

Meet Generation Alpha. Born between 2010 and 2024, the successors to millennials and Gen Zs will be the largest generational cohort the world has ever seen – and is ever likely to see. Currently emerging into the world at a rate of 2.74m a week, Alphas will have a profound impact on global society. In a marketplace where every brand is always just a generation away from extinction, business leaders ignore this new demographic powerhouse at their peril.

By 2025, around 2bn Alphas will be alive, surpassing all previous generations. However, with global population growth now expected to slow, future cohorts will be smaller. Alphas will have the most significant presence in India, China and Nigeria, but every country will see rapid growth. By as early as 2030, Alphas will account for 11% of the global workforce.

Mark McCrindle, a social sciences researcher based in Sydney and author of the bestselling book Generation Alpha: Understanding our children and helping them thrive, was one of the first academics to recognize the emergence of a new generation, and coined the term “Alphas” to describe them. He believes the sheer size of this coming generation is not the only reason why organizations should start thinking seriously about their needs, desires and priorities.

“Their access to information means they have influence at a younger age,” argues McCrindle. “They are the generation that set the agenda from a popular-culture perspective, a big tech perspective and a social media perspective. They will determine the destines of brands and products.”

Already a $1trn generation 

By 2024, McCrindle’s research suggests, Alphas will already wield $1 trillion of worldwide spending power, either directly or through their influence on the spending choices of their parents and other family members. He estimates that, by 2029, that figure will have risen to $1.7trn – amid Generation Alpha’s overall economic footprint of almost $5.5trn.

Organizations that are not equipped to serve this mega-generation will be at a significant competitive disadvantage. Alphas may simply decide not to work for them, to buy from them, or to invest in them.

Moreover, while some CEOs may feel they already know Alphas well – they may have children of their own, after all – there is a danger that this attitude could usher in complacency, with an assumption that one generation of young people is much like the next. The typical age of C-suite leaders, who tend to be in their late fifties, means their children are more likely to be Gen Zs. The distinction is important, McCrindle says, because the hallmarks of these adjacent generations are subtly different. 

“This is the most digitally endowed generation ever, the most materially supplied generation ever, and the most globally connected generation ever,” he asserts. “All those factors really do create a superlative generation in a lot of different ways. Alphas are global, visual, digital, mobile and social. This cohort has some unique characteristics compared to what we’ve seen in the past.”

Echoing the attitudes of their grandparents 

Equally, the attitudes and behaviors of Generation Alpha also represent a departure from those of millennials and Gen Zs. While alphas remain concerned about climate change and social justice – and ready to support or punish brands accordingly – their values are shifting. Perhaps surprisingly, McCrindle’s research suggests a return, at least in certain social dimensions, to the more conservative attitudes of older generations. 

 

Digital connections
“This is the most digitally endowed generation ever, the most materially supplied generation ever, and the most globally connected generation ever.”
- Mark McCrindle

For example, many member of Generation Alpha are growing up with a consciousness of constrained household budgets and mounting economic pressure. They recognize the need to take more responsibility for their own financial futures, particularly in a globally competitive marketplace. They do not regard it as a given that they will one day be able to afford their own homes.

Similarly, Alphas appear to be developing more entrepreneurial tendencies, embracing the gig economy, side hustles and self-employment. They are less likely to expect – or want – a secure job with a large organization, but nonetheless have a strong work ethic.

There is a much greater sense of self among this generation of children than was evident among their predecessors. Alphas possess an awareness of mental health issues than did previous generations and are, therefore, likely to be more focused on protecting their wellbeing as they move into the workforce. Alphas are not without their particular insecurities – many were scarred by the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited social opportunities and, in some cases, impacted their physical as well as mental health.

“All of that has been a reaction to what we saw with prior generations,” McCrindle suggests. “There has been a shift to values such as grit and resilience that we probably haven’t seen since their grandparents’ generation.”

Hear my voice 

A related characteristic is that Generation Alpha appears to be ready and willing to stand up for itself. From an early age, Alphas share their views via social media and other online platforms. They expect to be heard, including at home, where they want to influence parental purchasing decisions ranging from next year’s holiday decision to how best to approach education.

This distinctive outlook should inform businesses’ approaches, argues McCrindle. “[Alphas’ attitudes] are a reaction to what went before, rather than a continuation of it, so we have to recognize that we can’t simply design for them,” he says. “Rather, we need to design with them – give them a seat at the table that reflects how well-informed and influential they are.”

Similarly, when it comes to marketing and communications, this generation has a nuanced understanding of content. Their embrace of platforms such as TikTok, through which they can create original content or tweak the material of other creators, gives them an intuitive feel for what it takes to make a connection with – and to shape the views of – other people. 

work wellbeing
Alphas possess an awareness of mental health issues than did previous generations and are, therefore, likely to be more focused on protecting their wellbeing as they move into the workforce

“Marketers are well aware that brand now sits firmly in the hands of the people, but young people, in particular, are more attuned to the power and leverage they have,” says McCrindle. “Generation Alpha recognizes it has the power to build a brand, to grow something – or to force its demise.”

Brands need to rethink their marketing strategies to consider this new level of commercial sophistication among their youngest customer demographic. Savvy Alphas will see straight through inauthentic messaging and attempts to manipulate them and are likely to call such tactics out in public.

Time to strike a different tone? 

Leading marketers are already honing their tone of voice to accommodate the Alpha consumer. Marketing analysts point to Lego’s return to its long-standing slogan, “Only the best is good enough,” which speaks perfectly to a generation that is showered with material goods and wants to be impressed. Similarly, Barbie’s “You can be anything” is aimed squarely at self-confident and curious alphas who absolutely believe that of themselves.

Organizations should remember that this is a generation with a unique ability to tell each other what they think, with physical boundaries no longer a barrier to communication. For example, a recent study by consumer research platform GWI found that almost half of children between the ages of eight and 11 talked to their friends online while playing games such as Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite. Such entertainment products have evolved into social ecosystems that facilitate unprecedented levels of sharing.

This is just a glimpse of what is to come, concludes McCrindle, and every organization should pay attention. “Rather than thinking about what, say, 2035, could look like in an abstract sense, a study of Generation Alpha provides a tangible view of the future,” he says. “This generation will soon become the key workers, family formers and wealth accumulators. By looking at who they are now and how they’ve been shaped, [we can chart] a solid trajectory to the future.” 

Expert

Mark McCrindle

Mark McCrindle

Social Researcher

Mark McCrindle is an award-winning social researcher and futurist who coined the term 'Generation Alpha'. He is a best-selling author, and influential thought leader. Mark is regularly commissioned to deliver strategy and advice to the boards and executive committees of some of Australia’s leading organizations.

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