Editor's note: Kimberley Howard is culture and trends consultant at U.K. research firm Join the Dots. 

Much has been said in recent years about the rapid rise of individualism. In March 2014, the very same month that the term “selfie” spiked on Google Trends, Ross Douthat, politics, religion and moral values columnist for The New York Times, wrote, “In the future, it seems, there will only be one ‘ism’ – Individualism – and its rule will never end.”

Douthat’s statement suggests individuality is only increasing and psychological research by Santos and Grossman (Psychological Science, July 2017) supports the claim. Data across 78 markets and 51 years reveals most countries are moving towards greater individualism and this is closely linked to increased socioeconomic development. 

Individualism is on a continual upward trajectory – today’s young people, known as Gen Z, are the most individualistic generation yet. As analysts of human behavior, we questioned what this means for researchers and how we can help our clients tap into the individuality megatrend to make better business decisions.

We conducted a global study of individuality, combining survey data with qualitative interviews and in-depth desk research.¹ From this study, we’ve uncovered three global individuality trends for Gen Z, each with implications and opportunities for researchers, brands and marketers.

Gen Z express their individuality through vocalizing their social and political opinions. They’re a generation looking to pioneer change but, contrary to teens past, they’re keen to work within the system rather than destroy it.

One key concern for Gen Z is ingrained cultural stereotypes and inequality. Prejudice towards LGBTQ+ people, gender inequality and racism rank higher in their concerns than they do for older generations. Gen Z want to break down the restrictive norms surrounding identity so that they have the fre...