Generation Alpha

There’s no doubt that some people view generational categories with the same skepticism as placemat horoscopes and Magic 8 Ball predictions. They scoff at the notion that an entire generation can be summed up by a few choice adjectives. Obviously, not all Baby Boomers are motivated by money, not every Gen Xer demands flexibility, and not all Millennials speak in bullet points.1

But history has taught us that entire eras can be captured by a defining phrase – the 1920s “roared,” the 1930s suffered “The Great Depression,” and the 1960s was defined by its counterculture. It stands to reason that global events like the 9/11 terror attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly affected the entire population and indelibly mark those in their formative years. According to the Pew Research Center, “the eras in which we come of age can leave a signature of common experiences and perspectives. Events such as terrorist attacks, wars, recessions, and pandemics can shape the opportunities and mindsets of those most affected by them.”2

So, what does this mean for staff at a university currently educating Gen Z and preparing for Generation Alpha? According to a participant in the “Gen Alpha Is Coming” panel at the College Board Forum last year, “65% of Alphas will work in jobs that don’t yet exist.” As a result of their ubiquitous digital connectedness, they will expect hyper-personalized information that is specific to their unique circumstances. In all likelihood, this information will be highly visual or generated by artificial intelligence.

For those who read Beth McMurtrie’s recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the decline in reading skills and inclination in today’s college students, this shift from words on a page to images in video should come as no surprise.3 Professor Jean Twenge, author of Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future lists “visually adept” as a key characteristic of Generation Alpha. According to her analysis, they process information and learn best through visual elements and interactive experiences. She cites a 2015 study that found “three out of four young children had their own tablet – a figure that has surely grown, especially given the childcare challenges parents faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. By age eight, one in five children have their own smartphone, and by age eleven, the majority do,” Twenge writes.4

Although a number of sources define Generation Alpha as the population born between 2010 and the present, Twenge chooses 2013 as the start of what she refers to as the “Polar Generation.” This label refers to the political polarization that gripped the country beginning in the 2010s and the melting polar ice caps that serve as a symbol of global warming. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, believes this generation will grapple with these two issues for most of their lives.5

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, Generation Alpha will be the first generation with a majority population that is non-white. As of 2020, the United States had a non-Hispanic white majority at 50.7%, a number that will decline as the population of women in their childbearing years becomes more diverse over the course of the current decade. This generation will also have the highest number of multiracial people. The 2020 census found that the number of multiracial Americans nearly quadrupled from 2010 to 2020, from 9 million people to 33.8 million.6

In April, Dr. Michael Leitz presented a session at the 2024 Professional Development Institute for the Wisconsin College Personnel Association entitled “A Deeper Understanding of the Generations, including Generation Alpha.” There he offered a summary of likely characteristics for the age group including:

Digital natives: Unlike previous generations who had to adapt to technology, Gen Alpha has never known a world without it. They’re incredibly comfortable with screens and devices and see digital tools as an integrated part of their lives.

Hyperconnected: Gen Alpha is constantly connected to the internet and social platforms. They navigate online environments with ease and leverage technology for communication, learning, and entertainment.

Independent and self-directed: With access to vast information, Gen Alpha is developing strong independent learning skills. They’re comfortable making their own choices and managing their digital identities.

Socially conscious: Growing up with global issues like climate change, Gen Alpha is environmentally aware and advocates for social justice and inclusivity.

Family-focused: Shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gen Alpha values family time and security. They might show a heightened awareness of health and well-being.

Adaptable learners: Gen Alpha is expected to be highly adaptable due to the fast-paced technological advancements they’ll experience throughout their lives.

Evolving with AI: As AI becomes more integrated into society, Gen Alpha will likely be comfortable interacting and working alongside it.

Twenge identifies one factor affecting every generation in the 21st century — what she terms the slow-life strategy. It features “lower birth rates, slower development, and more resources and care put into each child. Thus, children do fewer things on their own (fewer walk to school by themselves or stay at home alone), teens are less independent (fewer get their driver’s license or date), young adults postpone adult milestones (marrying and having children later than earlier generations), life stages once considered middle-aged tilt younger (“fifty is the new forty”), staying healthy past retirement age is the rule rather than the exception, and life expectancies stretch toward 80. The entire developmental trajectory has slowed down, from childhood to older adulthood.”7 It will be interesting to see if Generation Alpha continues the trend of delayed “adulting” or if technological advances, climate change, and political polarization work together to forge a new temperament.

1Leitz, Dr. Michael, “A Deeper Understanding of the Generations, Including Generation Alpha”
2Dimock, Michael, “5 Things to Keep in Mind When You Hear About Gen Z, Millennials, Boomers and Other Generations,” Pew Research Center: Short Reads, May 22, 2023.
The Pew Research Center will continue to use these and other labels to help readers navigate a changing world, but they intend to do so sparingly – and only when the data supports the use of the generational lens.
3McMurtrie, Beth, “Is This the End of Reading?” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 9, 2024.
4Twenge, Jean M., Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents—and What They Mean for America’s Future. New York: Atria Books, 2023. p. 325.
5Twenge, p. 321.
6Twenge, p. 322.
7Twenge, p. 19.