While experts aren't yet sold on the "Generation C" label some people are using to define babies born amid coronavirus, they believe the pandemic may define the next generation.
The global health crisis could go down in history like a war of sorts — a major factor called a period event that demographers use to help define generations, according to Pew Research Center. For Gen Z, (usually defined as those born between 1997 and 2012)"coronavirus is the generation-defining moment," according to Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research and strategy firm focused on Gen Z and millennials.
"We’re not sure that this will be the only event that separates Gen Z from the generation that comes after them," Dorsey said. "But it is such a profound and important event that we definitely think it's by far the top event that we’ve ever studied related to Gen Z."
The generation that follows Gen Z will be the first that won't remember coronavirus because they were too young or not yet born during the crisis, Dorsey said.
Where did the Generation C term come from?
Online, many have suggested names for babies born during the coronavirus crisis: Coronials. Quaranteens. Baby Zoomers.
Dorsey said he first started hearing the label Generation C in the last month from clients wanting to know if that was the official name being given to the next generation. He said some were speculating that coronavirus could cause a baby boom, although experts say that is unlikely.
But Michael Wood, president of generational research firm 747 Insights, said he first started hearing the term around 4 or 5 years ago. Wood said people were looking for a way to describe how the generation to come after Gen Z would be more connected and have more access to content than ever, but the name "never really took off."
How will the kids born during coronavirus pandemic be defined?
When researchers looked to define the boundaries between millennials and Gen Z, one of the factors they considered was the September 11th terrorist attack, according to Ruth Igielnik, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center. Millennials were old enough to understand a world before and after 9/11, while Gen Z were not.
Igielnik, who studies social and demographic trends, noted that researchers just agreed on the label for Gen Z about two years ago, and given that the members of the next generation is just five or six years old it's too early to speculate what might define them.
Wood said it often takes years for researchers to be able to observe shifts in attitudes and values and then retrospectively determine what historical events might have caused them.
How could coronavirus impact the next generation?
Researchers are still trying to figure out how coronavirus will impact Gen Z, Igielnik said, and it's hard to predict any long term economic impacts.
The unemployment rate, which rose from a half-century low of 3.5% in February to 4.4% in March, is expected to climb to 15% to 20% in April, Moody’s Analytics predicts, the highest since the Great Depression.
"We’ve never had this kind of pandemic in recent years so it's just hard to say," Igielnik said. "The economic circumstance could certainly play a role in that."
Wood, of 747 Insights, said that in addition to potential economic effects, this could affect young people's "core attitudes and values" in a way that it likely won't for older generations.
"It's going to change how young people think about the future and think about the role of the federal government and think about educational opportunities," said Wood.
Dorsey, of the Center for Generational Kinetics, said that the pandemic will likely also lead to structural changes and new norms that the next generation could ultimately benefit from including shifts in online learning, physical workspaces, contactless payment, a vaccine and other new technology.
"They may not attach it directly to the pandemic, but they’ll still be able to benefit from it," he said.
What schools will look like:Scheduled days home, more online learning, lots of hand-washing
Is this the next Silent Generation?
The Silent Generation, the grandparents of millennials who are in their 70s and 80s, were born and came of age during the Great Depression just as the next generation will be born and raised in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
Wood said that depending on what kind of sacrifices the next generation has to make, it's possible they "could very easily mirror what we’ve seen with previous generations like the Silent Generation."
Igielnik, the Pew researcher, said it would be interesting to compare the two groups, but because so much has changed in terms of technology, education, labor participation and the country's racial and ethnic make-up it's "not really a fair comparison."
"Certainly we know that the Depression was a defining event for sort of the oldest generation in our country today," she said. "That could certainly be something that you could look at as a parallel."
Contributing: Paul Davidson, USA TODAY
Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg