School of Communications advisor shares generational research

Jack MacKenzie, president of Magid Generational Strategies, discussed the youngest U.S. generation, called "The Plurals" in a Sept. 18 lecture.

The first generation of the 21st century was the focus of a talk by Elon University School of Communciations advisory board member Jack MacKenzie on Sept. 18 in Whitley Auditorium. MacKenzie, an Elon parent, is executive vice president of Frank N. Magid Associates and president and founder of Magid Generational Strategies, a research and consultancy firm based in Los Angeles. He was on campus for the advisory board’s fall meeting and met with several student and staff groups.

MacKenzie’s firm has dubbed the youngest U.S. generation, the children of Generation X parents, as The Pluralistic generation. This year, the last of the so-called Millennial generation turns 18 and graduates from high school, making way for the next generation of youth. The Plurals, as members of this generation are called, are the most diverse generation in U.S. history and have very distinct characteristics from previous generations. They are made up of about 72 million people born since 1997.

In outlining the progression of the generations, MacKenzie noted that the Baby Boomers (currently aged 50-68) have now moved out of the prime marketing demographic. Behind them is Generation X (ages 38-49), followed by the Millennials (18-37). The Plurals are only 52 percent white, America’s last generation with a Caucasian majority. They are the most postive generation about the nation becoming ethnically diverse, with only 12 percent having a negative opinion of the demographic shift.

“The Plurals lived through the economic crisis – the great recession – and that has affected their attitudes toward life, work and home ownership,” MacKenzie said. “And they are the first generation to turn on the TV and see an African-American president, and that affects the way they see race.”

MacKenzie noted that only 69 percent of Plurals are in two-parent households, compared with 83 percent of Gen Xers who grew up with two parents. The parenting style of the Plurals’ parents, the Gen Xers, is affecting today’s youth. The Gen X parents often protect their children through surveillance rather than active involvement. They promote a sense of realism, rather than unrealistic aspirations, and stress to their children that only the best succeed.

According to MacKenzie, female Plurals are more focused than boys on achievement, and he predicted the “gender success imbalance” will continue to grow as young women outpace males in educational performance. 

MacKenzie called the Plurals “street smart, creative, realistic and independent.” He said communicators will need to understand the media habits of this young generation. As the first truly digital native generation, they are heavily focused on visual communication and see the Internat as a platform for sharing images and video. He says they are a highly fragmented audience that demands constant communication, curated content and messages that are impactful and brief – suited to their very short attention span.

“They want to stand out – to be clever, different and funny,” MacKenzie said.