They're young. They like things their way. They don't like stereotypes and steer clear of conformity.
Because young people ages 34 and younger are legions larger than the dominant-until-now-Baby Boom generation, their likes and dislikes command lots of attention. High on their list is gender identity — a concept they're increasingly resisting.
"Gender stereotypes are conformity," says Jamie Gutfreund, chief strategy officer of The Intelligence Group, a consumer insights and strategy group based in Los Angeles whose summer/fall 2013 report about gender paints a vivid portrait of younger generations' attitudes.
The survey reveals that "gender is less of a definer of identity today than it was for prior generations. Rather than adhering to traditional gender roles, young people are interpreting what gender means to them personally."
As a result, gender rules and traditional stereotypes are fading. From college housing to clothing, language and parenting, gender-neutral increasingly is the preferred position. Generation Y alone is estimated at 80-90 million in the USA (compared with 75 million Baby Boomers) and 2 billion worldwide. It's growing because of immigration. And because they think and behave the same globally, experts say these young people will change society in profound ways.
The online survey measured opinions of a nationally representative sample of 900 people ages 14-34, two-thirds of them 18-24 (termed Generation Y or Millennials), and the remainder 14-17 (often termed Generation Z).
Among the findings:
• More than two-thirds agree that gender does not define a person the way it once did.
• 60% think that gender lines have been blurred;
• Nearly two-thirds say their generation is pushing the boundaries of what it means to be feminine and masculine. As a result, 42% feel that gender roles today are confusing.
"You can be one thing one day and another the next," Gutfreund says. "In previous generations, there was no going back and forth. Now, there's incredible fluidity to everything."
"Fluidity" is exactly how generational expert Bruce Tulgan, founder of a management, research and training company in New Haven, Conn., describes what he's observed.
"They would say not just men and women; it's everyone along the spectrum. Everybody has his or her own gender story," he says.