A Closer Look At Gen Y And Z In Malaysia

Sep 23, 2018 8 Min Read


So much has been talked and debated about Gen Ys over the last few years and yet, there are people who still complain and think that Gen Ys are naïve, lack respect and interpersonal skills, and have no loyalty towards employers.

The negative perceptions about Gen Y has not changed much and now, we have a new breed who is even more challenging and is growing up.

They are Generation Z, or Gen Z in short.

Who are Gen Zs? 

They are a demographic cohort after Gen Y.

There are numerous other names that describe them such as iGen, Homelanders, Screenagers, Global Gen, and a few others.

I prefer to describe them as the Apps Gen ‒ due to the emergence of applications for software programming, or Smart Gen as in integration of computing technology in mobile phones.

What’s the difference between Gen Y and Z? 

In the United States (US), Gen Ys are categorised as those born between 1981 and 1994, and Gen Zs as those born between 1995 and 2010.

Gen Y was raised in the era when the Web was created.

Google was established in 1997 when Gen Y was growing up, and they embraced technology with excitement.

Gen Z was raised on social web where platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and WhatsApp were created.

The iPhone – which was the invention of smart technology revolution – started in 2007.

Due to the development of technology, Gen Ys commonly multitask with two screens while Gen Zs do so with up to five screens.

As a result, Gen Y is digital-savvy whereas Gen Z is digital-centric.

For Gen Z, they can’t comprehend if the world does not have Internet as they live in it.

For Gen Y, the technology was developed while they were growing up and it is something they embraced.

Comparison between Gen Y and Z (based on US studies) 

Gen Y: The Optimists (1981 – 1994) Gen Z: The Realists (1995 – 2010)
Raised on the Internet Raised on social web
Two screens Up to five screens
Communicate with text Communicate with images
Share things Create things
Present-focused Future-focused
Want to be discovered and different Work for success
Luxury shoppers Frugal shoppers
Digital-savvy Digital-centric
Want to experience multiple careers Want to work for themselves (entrepreneurial)
Teamwork-oriented within small groups Global collective conscious

*Note: There is no study on differences between Malaysian Gen Ys and Zs and the above is used as a reference for our understanding of Malaysian generations.


To understand the issue of generations, it is essential to know the history of events that formed the core cultures, beliefs, values and mindsets that influence the formative years of people.

Gen Y in the US 

The 1980s was the time when technology expanded and the digital revolution started in the US.

It is the Internet bubble where Silicon Valley became the centre of the computer industry.

Ebay, Yahoo, Paypal, Amazon, and Google were some of the mega companies founded in the Silicon Valley in the 1990s.

It was a period of growth with expansion and Gen Y wanted to break away from the norm and tradition, something which became possible through technology platforms.

They grew up in a period of strong economy.

Crossing the millennium, the US went into a series of tragedies.

The dot.com bubble burst in the early 2000s, followed by the terrorist attack on Sept 11, 2001.

The country faced the Great Recession in 2009 which led to bursting of the housing bubble, high unemployment, and others.

Gen Z in the US 

Unlike Gen Y, Gen Zs were born into a time of recession, terrorism, violence, volatility and complexity.

As result, their characters and perspectives vary.

They became realists that sought stability and security.

They are frugal in spending although online shopping is the norm. They want to create and do live streaming.

Teen obesity has tripled in the US since 1970.

While Gen Ys loved sports and adventure, Gen Zs see sports as a health necessity.

Their attention span has shortened to just eight seconds and they won’t listen if you cannot engage them.

Nevertheless, both generations have similarities as they are technology users.

They are collaborative and socially engaged.

Who are the Millennials?

When you hear Millennials, I believe you will think of Gen Ys. The word came into existence when the year 2000 marked a new millennium. In other words, those who were born in the late 1990s and grew up after the year 2000 should be defined as Millennials.

Looking at this definition and that the year of categories for Gen Y in the US is from 1981–1994, they are not the Millennials. Gen Zs born from 1995–2010 are the Millennials.

In Malaysia, based on my observations and research, Gen Ys were born between 1985–2004 and they are Millennials. Gen Z are those born from 2005 onwards and are post-Millennials.


Gen Y in Malaysia (1985–2004) 

Based on my survey, Malaysia was at least five years behind the US in the early 1980s for technology.

The technology infrastructure was not developed until the Multimedia Super Corridor was created in 1996.

Malaysia underwent tremendous industrial development to capture foreign investments to manufacture high-end value-added products for exports in the 1990s.

From 1988 to 1996, Malaysia’s economy expanded at 8 per cent annually, the second fastest after China. Per capita income doubled in the 1990–1996 period.

The Internet boomed after 1997 when the telecommunication industry opened with Maxis, Digi and U Mobile selling reasonable data packages, and with Nokia and Motorola leading the affordable mobile devices.

This was the time when teenage Gen Ys embraced technology with enthusiasm.

Similarly like the US, our Malaysian Gen Ys are highly educated and it is common to see them pursuing postgraduate studies.

Our culture emphasises the importance of education and Malaysian parents – especially those who did not get to reach their desirable education level due to poverty – would do their best to provide.

Gen Z in Malaysia (2005 onwards) 

Malaysia recovered in early 2000 after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, but it didn’t regain its momentum of high growth.

It went into a phase of flat growth without a major breakthrough.

We caught up in technology and the speed was up-to-mark with neighbouring countries.

YouTube was created in 2005; Facebook, 2007; iPhone, 2007; followed by a series of other technological gadgets and app-based solutions.

This denoted the development change of technology into social media.

In 2016, 92 per cent of the population had 3G data coverage and 64 per cent of people had 4G coverage access in Malaysia.

However, as we were not a developed country yet, there was disparity in usage between children from urban and rural areas.

Nevertheless, digital technology is absolutely necessary for Gen Zs ‒ like the need for water and air to mankind.

Future of work with Gen Zs 

With the oldest being 13, what is their future like when they join the workforce?

Are our corporations and industries ready to cater to their needs when they enter the work market?

To gauge the answers, we need to explore a few impending issues.

In terms of education, are we doing the right thing to equip them with the necessary skills?

Industry 4.0 is already under way and it is about smart factories with cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, etc.

More and more new jobs that never existed 10 years ago are coming up. Is our education system providing the content and skills that are needed by the industries of the future?

In the US, children’s attention span has been reduced to only eight seconds!

What can you do for eight seconds? What can you teach so that they can learn in eight seconds?

I believe the attention span of our Malaysian children is not far away from eight seconds, although there is no data.

Definitely, the way things are taught has to be completely changed; no longer will paper and pen with massive memorisation suffice.

Gen Y communicates in text and as stated above, Gen Z in images. Books are no longer attractive and it has to evolve into comic style storytelling. Lessons within interactive gadgets is positively the attraction for attention.

Higher education will continue to have a place of importance, but they would be more selective. Gen Zs look for specific areas of interest or skills to learn.

General subjects like Bachelor of Arts or Science may no longer be valued as much. They prefer something more practical or that has immediate use.

Our Gen Zs have global awareness and travel widely.

This is also the current habit of Malaysians who have the spending power for travel, and family trips are common.

The above are only a few areas to highlight. Are you ready for the coming of Gen Z? After Gen Z is Gen Alpha, but many are still complaining about Gen Y.

Comparison between generations in the US and Malaysia


Lily Lau is the managing director of Culture Dynamics DCI (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd and a master trainer for directive communication psychology. Her passion is to connect generations and embrace diversity to bridge gaps for Malaysian corporations, and has conducted many training sessions on this topic. What do you think of Lily’s observations and her comparison of Malaysian generations? Comment below or send your opinions to us at editor@leaderonomics.com.


Prefer an e-mag reading experience? This article is also available in our 22nd September 2018 digital issue. Access our digital issues here.

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This article is published by the editors of Leaderonomics.com with the consent of the guest author. 

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