Who are ‘zillennials’? Meet the microgeneration between millennials and Gen Z

If you grew up playing Millsberry online with dial-up internet and immediately texted your crush when you got your first iPhone in middle school, you may be a “zillennial.”

Millennials (or Generation Y) are adults born between 1981 and 1996, while Gen Zers are anyone born between 1997 through 2012.

But some young adults feel those markers are too rigid, as they fail to fully align with the traits of just one generation and instead identify with both.

That’s how the term zillennial was born.

“They’re on the cusp of Gen Z and millennial, thus the mash-up label of zillennial,” Deborah Carr, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Innovation in Social Science at Boston University, recently told CNN.

“Being a ‘zillennial’ is strange because the spectrum is so wide,” marketing executive Melo Ruswa, who was born in 1996, explained to Glamour UK about the microgeneration born between 1992 and 1998.

“On one side I have friends that have children, are married and at the top of the career ladder. On the other, there are people that are OK with the fact they are still figuring out what’s right for them,” Ruswa continued. “So balancing both of those desires for the kids, marriage and a successful career but also making sure I live a life that fits with my values can be complicated.”

A general view of a scissor cutting a landline telephone wire
This group of young adults was born between the early 1990s and the early 2000s.
Christopher Sadowski

There are certain shared life experiences that unite the generation, including being alive during 9/11 but not old enough to remember where they actually were when it happened.

More recently, most zillennials can relate to one another over shared stories of graduating college or starting their first full-time job remotely.

One of the most glaring traits of the group is their unique relationship with technology: they grew up alongside the progression of tech and experienced devices in all their iterations.

A man holds two boxes for the Appleâs new iPhone X
The specific microgeneration of young adults experienced adolescence with both corded landlines and iPhones.

That specific microgeneration of young adults faced adolescence with both dial-up internet and corded landlines but quickly upgraded to high-speed Wi-Fi and iPhones — all before they entered high school.

They remember watching “The Little Mermaid” on VHS before getting “Hannah Montana: The Movie” on DVD and listening to “The Wiggles” on a cassette tape just a few years before downloading the Jonas Brothers on their first-generation iPhone.

While they most likely spent the majority of their childhood playing outside, their angsty teen years were spent glued to a screen.

Zillennials bond over shared favorites from both millennials and Gen Z, as they are just the right age to remember watching “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” in 2003 (millennials) and “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” starring Miley Cyrus (above), in 2009 (Gen Z).
©Disney Channel/courtesy Everett / Everett Collection

Along with the coolest devices, zillennials were born at just the right time to experience all forms of the internet.

They heard about MySpace from their older cousin, were the first to lie about their age to make a Facebook account, are still stuck on Instagram and were a bit late to the TikTok craze.

What really sets zillennials apart from their older and younger friends, however, is their spending power, according to PYMNTS, a financial services publication. 

A steady income, a savings account that built up during the COVID-19 pandemic and limited expenses have combined to give much of the demographic strong spending power.

While zillennials don’t fully fit in with either millennials or Gen Z, understanding both groups has its advantages.

“At our research center, we’ve seen cuspers like zillennials often end up having an advantage because it tends to make them more aware of both generations before and after their own,” Jason Dorsey, a generations researcher and president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, told CNN.

But understanding both generations has also pushed these cuspers to unite in order to distinguish themselves from “cheugy” millennials and “entitled” Gen Zers.

logos of online platforms, applications, social networks and technology and IT companies
Zillennials are just the right age to have explored all variations of the internet and social media.
AFP via Getty Images

“Some generations reject the labels given to them by others and some generations embrace the name if they feel it fits them and their values or differences,” Dorsey added.

He noted that zillennials have banded together to renounce the negative stereotypes of both millennials and Gen Zers — and also embrace the best parts of both generations.

“I wouldn’t say I necessarily feel negative about bridging both groups,” Beth Kirkbride, who was born in 1996, told Glamour UK. “It’s been a blessing to be able to choose which group to belong to at various points and as helped me fit in better.

“I would say I’m either a Millennial or Gen Z depending on whichever group is being less cringe at any given time.”

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