You’re such a millennial,” an older colleague says to you as you eat your vegan avocado toast during a lunch break. “Why don’t you Gen Z kids ever look up from your phones?” your parent asks as they drive you back from an SAT Prep class. 

Every generation has its own cultural touchstones and stereotypes. Often they result from a set of shared experiences and beliefs that naturally occur from growing up in the same time period. According to Business Insider, Millennials consist of anyone born between the years of 1981 and 1996, whereas Generation Z includes anyone born between the years of 1997 and 2010. But are we really just supposed to just sit here and assume that everyone before 1997 has a different taste and mindset than those born after? Shouldn’t we rely on something a little more scientific to make this distinction, like a Myers Briggs personality test? Or, at the very least, a Buzzfeed quiz?

Your date of birth may classify you as a certain generation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you fit into that generation, which can be especially true for those born on the cusp. These are some of the differences that defined how Millennials and Gen Zers grew up and why they live the way they do today. See which sound more like you to get a more accurate idea of which generation you should belong to. 

Blockbusters vs. Streamers

Millennials grew up paying late fees on movie rentals. Gen Zers pay every month they forget to cancel their free Netflix trial.

The outside of a Blockbuster store with a yellow closing sign across the front.
Blockbuster may have closed, but Millennials still remember going to the video stores to rent their favorite movies.  Image courtesy of PennLive.

How people accessed movies and media content during their childhood might be one of the most insightful ways to determine which generation they belong to. For Millennials, watching a specific movie not available in theaters meant taking a trip to a video rental store. After Netflix’s creation in 1997, Gen Zers had an easier time watching their favorite movies and TV shows--customers could now receive movies in the mail for a monthly fee, allowing them to save a weekly trek to the video rental store. As streaming became more popular, Blockbuster eventually went out of business, but video rental stores didn’t die before leaving their mark on an entire generation. When it comes to watching movies, Gen Zers and Millennials can be defined as either those who had movie watching convenience or those who made the weekly trip to the video store. 

Disposable Cameras vs. Dual Cameras

Before taking a photo, Millennials heard “Wait! Your finger’s blocking the lens!” while today’s Gen Zers insist that you “Take it in Portrait mode!”

A woman taking a photo with a disposable camera.
Millennials, most of whom grew up without iPhones, used disposable cameras to capture life’s finest moments. mage courtesy of EF College Study.

Gen Zers grew up using iterations of the latest iPhone to snap countless photos of their friends whenever they pleased, but Millennials didn’t have this luxury. Instead, they took photos on disposable cameras, which meant having to go to a CVS to get them developed. When all was said and done, it wasn’t uncommon to sift through a stack of developed photos to find a few that were blurry or accidentally blocked out by the photographer’s finger.  When trying to determine whether you’re a Gen Zer or a Millennial, look back on the photos you took during your childhood and teenage years. How good was the quality? The better the picture looks, the closer you are to Gen Z status. 

Facebook vs. Instagram

Different social media platforms for different generations to express themselves.

An image of the Facebook icon and the Instagram icon superimposed over someone holding a cell phone.
While Millennials used Facebook in their teens and 20s, Gen Zers have turned more to Instagram as a way to communicate with others. Image courtesy of Cyberbility.

While many may be quick to point out the differences between Millennials and Gen Zers, the two share quite a few similarities, one of these being that are heavy social media users. Facebook’s founding in 2004 in addition to its appeal to teenage and twenty-something year old audiences meant it was a hit among Millenials. Founded in 2010, Instagram’s emergence collided perfectly with the formative years of Gen Zers, 65% of whom, according to Business Insider, check accounts on the social media app daily. Millennials made it through their teens and twenties posting updates on their Facebook Page, while most Gen Zers turned to pictures that offer friends a glimpse into their daily lives. 

Boy Bands vs. Bedroom Pop

Millennials idolize too many guys on a stage. Gen Zers prefer someone singing alone in their bedroom.

An image of NSYNC performing on stage
Boy Bands like NSYNC were the soundtrack to many Millennials’ upbringings. Image courtesy of International Business Times.

Boy bands like The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC were prominent musical groups in the 90s pop scene, making them popular amongst Millennials. While Gen Zers did grow up idolizing certain boy bands like One Direction and Big Time Rush, they have now created their own trend: bedroom pop. Scrapping the big stage for some music editing software and childhood home acoustics, bedroom pop displays the DIY and content creator energy that sets Gen Z apart from all other generations. If your music taste falls closely in line with the flashy sing-along style similar to that of boy bands, then you’re likely a Millennial. But, if you prefer something a little mellower that promotes independent musicians, then you likely fit into the Gen Z category. 

Google the Search Engine vs. Google the Classroom

An old image of the Google homescreen.
Both Gen Zers and Millennials used Google for educational purposes growing up, but it played a much bigger role in the lives of Gen Zers. Image courtesy of Medium.

Google was founded in 1998, right around the time when some of the oldest Gen Zers were learning how to walk. In the beginning, the search engine provided Millennials with assistance they needed on school and college assignments--questions that would have required a trip to the library now only demanded a few key words entered into a search engine. This, of course, is the same for Generation Z, but extremely heightened. Gen Z grew up attending school in classrooms that utilized Google’s search engine as well as its laptops, drive email and very own classroom. The larger of a role Google played in your educational experience, the more likely you’re a Gen Zer.

Leonardo DiCaprio vs. Timothée Chalamet

One lost his life on the Titanic; the other lost his heart to Jo March. It’s tough to say which is worse. 

A side by side photo with Timothée Chalamet on the left and Leonardo DiCaprio on the right.
Timothée Chalamet (left) is seen as a heartthrob among Gen Zers, whereas Millennials grew up thinking Leonardo DiCaprio (right) was a hottie. Image courtesy of Decider.

Every generation has to have their own heartthrob, right? Growing up, Millennials likely had their sight set on Leonardo DiCaprio, who rose to fame in the 90s when he starred as the lead role in major films like Romeo and Juliet and The Titanic. Gen Zers, though, have their gaze on Timothée Chalamet, known for playing the lead role in films like Call Me By Your Name and  Little Women. Which hottie would you rather see in a lead role? It will probably give you some insight on which generation you belong to. 

2008 vs. 2020

One year was bad. The other was...much worse.

Two women sitting on opposite sides of the couch and looking sad.
2020 got off to a slow and socially distanced start because of the Coronavirus pandemic, a major event that defines Gen Zers formative years.

When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, Millennials, aged 12-27, were in the middle of some of their most formative years of their lives--some had just entered high school or college and others were navigating the workforce in their 20s. In 2020, Gen Zers, aged 10-23 were also in some of the most formative years of their lives when the Coronavirus pandemic sent the economy into another recession. Both generations can remember being young witnessing the fear and uncertainty that comes with an unstable economy, it’s just a matter of whether it happened in 2008 or 2020. 

Tiny Homes vs TikTok mansions

Millennials like corners to cozy up in. Gen Zers are ready to start the party. 

Five TikTok influencers standing on a staircase and leaning on eachother.
TikTok stars tend to congregate in big mansions in LA, which they use as their home base for creating the app’s content. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

After the Great Recession of 2008, the tiny home trend, selling your house and downsizing to a compact and economical living space, grew into a movement. At the heart of the tiny home movement is minimalism, the idea that with less materialistic items creates a more fulfilling life. This ideology, which is quite popular among Millennials, lies in stark contrast to that of many Gen Zers who dream of making it big on TikTok. Groups of TikTok influencers live in LA mansions where they team up to make content for the app that will be viewed by millions of people. While Millennials value downsizing and cozying up small spaces, Gen Zers want to make it big, performing sophisticated dances and pulling off crazy stunts in large spaces so they can vie for the most attention. 

Already Adulting vs. Lowkey Still Figuring it Out

Millennials have grown up. Gen Zers have taken their place.  

A group of millennials smiling at the camera.
No longer the youngest generation, Millennials are highkey adulting. Image courtesy of Newsweek.

There used to be a time when Millennials were looked at as societies’ naive youngins, but this year their group will range from 25 to 41 year olds. While not every Millennial has found their way out of their roaring 20s, many of them have reached career goals and started families. This puts Millennials in a very different spot than Gen Z’s 11-24 year olds, most of whom are navigating their teenage years finding their way to adulthood. So, one question remains: Are you adulting or are you still figuring it all out? The answer says a lot about which generation you belong to.  

Feb 15, 2021