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7 Cultural Trends for 2024 and Beyond

Published on Jun 18, 2024

7 Cultural Trends for 2024 and Beyond

We live in a state of transition. The current system isn’t working but the future is unwritten. In the words of Antonio Gramsci:

The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.

Despite the introduction of the automobile by Karl Benz in 1886, more than 130,000 horses worked in Manhattan in 1900. The invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 didn’t stop people from using the telegraph until the mid-20th century. In 2024, 54% of Americans wrote a check. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Gen-Z use peer-to-peer mobile payment apps like Venmo, Cash App and PayPal.

Contrary to popular belief, the new doesn’t replace the old. We are in limbo: a messy and protracted never-land where new ideas and old systems wrestle for oxygen. Here are seven cultural trends that will shape the next decade.

New Adulthood

The traditional markers of adulthood are no longer achievable or aspirational. Young people aged 16 to 24 are more likely to work in unstable jobs within the gig economy. Homeownership is down in most developed countries. Nearly 50% of young adults (18 to 29) in the U.S. and 30% of young adults in the U.K. (25 to 29) live with their parents. Marriage is on the decline and only 55% of Gen-Z and Millennials plan to have children. Birth rates are falling in Japan, South Korea, the European Union, China and the U.K.

Using the traditional metrics, young people are growing up at a slower pace than previous generations. But young people’s economic reality is incommensurable with the post-WWII generation. There is a fluidity and uncertainty to modern life which can’t be accurately captured in these linear life stages. Millennials and Gen-Z are the first generation worse off than their parents. Wage stagnation, job insecurity and a shortage in housing have created a generational wealth gap. The “work hard, you’ll succeed” promise is broken.

The notion of life stages is being challenged and reshaped. There is no longer a neatly defined beginning, middle and end. Companies can’t afford to plan future activities using out-of-date demographic data. Using data such as age, marital status and homeownership to make decisions is at best useless, and at worse misleading. Brands need to co-create with communities and conduct qualitative research to understand the shared values, interests and motivations of their ideal audience.

Virtual Empires

The invention of steam-powered machinery in the 18th century enabled the manufacturing economy. We shifted away from small-batch production to continuous mass production. Private enterprises made fortunes selling goods and services for a higher price than it cost them to produce. In 1997, the world’s most valuable companies were General Electric, Coca-Cola and Royal Dutch Shell. General Electric sold home appliances, Royal Dutch Shell sold oil and gas and the Coca-Cola Co. sold carbonated soft drinks. On the surface, these companies don’t have much in common. But all three sold a physical product using raw materials, factories and workers. The process was labor-intensive and required enormous capital expenditure to achieve economies of scale.

The financial crisis of 2008 transformed the shape of our economy. In 2024, the most valuable companies are Microsoft, Apple, Nvidia, Google and Amazon. Unlike the traditional manufacturing economy of the 1990s, we are operating under the reign of virtual empires. Using technology, machine learning algorithms and direct marketing: Virtual empires can bypass competition and extract maximum rent from consumers. Only 4% of Microsoft’s revenue comes from devices, and most (34%) comes from server products and cloud services. Apple Services is the fastest-growing product and now represents 24% of revenue. Google services generated 90% of Alphabet’s revenue with the remaining 9% being Google Cloud. Amazon private label products represent 1% of total revenue. Whilst Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the most profitable segment of the business.

The traditional advertising model of generating demand is less influential. Algorithms have broken the marketing funnel. Brands should explore subscription offerings that expand beyond the production of physical products, delivering ongoing value.

Citizen Rebellion

During the pandemic, companies were facing unprecedented pressure to ramp up their commitments to social equity. Corporations promised $200 billion for racial-justice initiatives following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The sudden change in discourse and mindset went beyond tackling racism. It suggested that companies could play a constructive role in society.

Companies advocated for stakeholder capitalism. The belief that corporations should serve the needs of all stakeholders including employees, customers and communities, not just shareholders. At the same time, we witnessed increased interest in ESG from institutional investors. But now we are seeing a backlash against so-called woke corporate capitalism. As seen with the Bud Light backlash and Target removing some of its Pride merchandise in 2023 after threats against employees. ESG and DEI are now in decline both in terms of investment and workforce allocation. Companies are more wary of making a stand. At the same time, the call for brands to make a stand is as strong as ever. Especially for Gen-Z who are hyper-informed, globally connected and socially conscious. Both McDonald’s and Starbucks have taken a significant hit on share price and missed key sales targets for their perceived support of the war in Gaza.

Brands are stuck in the middle, having to navigate an increasingly charged and polarized political atmosphere. Not taking a stand will alienate both parties and taking a stand might activate the wrath of the opposing group. This is especially problematic for mass-market consumer brands that need to appeal to everyone. Society is fragmented across socio-economic and ideological divides. All things being equal, challenger brands with a defined mission will outperform generic brands without a cause. Companies should work to unite people rather than exacerbate differences.

AI Companions

AI is the hottest thing since the internet. It has the same buzz as the metaverse but with more practical applications. According to the IMF, almost 40% of global employment is exposed to AI. Companies will replace human labor with AI once the technology is more productive and less expensive. But this isn’t the biggest challenge. AI is exponential. It can produce and reproduce content based on human input. For the last 10,000 years, humans have been the main decision-makers dominating the destiny of our planet. Could the next 100 years look drastically different?

This is not a dystopian sci-fi novel. People are already opting to interact with AI software over other human beings. Pi the AI assistant has more than 6 million monthly active users. Young Chinese women are turning to AI boyfriends because they are more kind, empathetic and understand them better than real men. Young people are embracing AI therapists since its cheap, quick, anonymous and available 24/7. We may never need human cooperation in the same way. AI companions can be calibrated to meet our needs and desires without the need to communicate, compromise or engage with messy humans.

Social cooperation has been the foundation of human civilization for millennia. Could AI companionship transform how society is organized? We might begin to see two forms of society: One society where humans and AI are companions and another, more traditional society—which remains human-led. One of the blessings and curses of humanity is that we create new technologies before we understand their repercussions.


Nationalism is filling a void left by global uncertainty and turmoil. Last year I wrote about global fragmentation: “For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we are witnessing the emergence of a new bipolar system. A fragmented world governed by opposing factions and competing spheres of influence. Unrestrained globalization seems like an outlier as we head back into a more disjointed world.”

The prevailing narrative was a global economy powered by free markets and progressive politics. Many people have stopped believing in the story of globalization. This is particularly true of communities that feel locked out of global markets, as seen with Brexit, growing nationalization in India and a new wave of nationalism in Europe. There is now a concerted effort to go back to the good old days. Global collaboration has drastically improved human development. More people die from obesity today than from malnutrition. More people die from suicide than war. And more people die from old age than from disease. We have made tremendous progress, but the benefits haven’t been distributed equally.

We can’t tackle global problems with unilateral action. Let’s take climate change as an example. We can’t address climate change if one country reduces its carbon emission. There are estimated to be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050. Even if nations choose not to reduce their emissions or change their policies, they will still see the impact of the climate crisis. The world is interconnected and interdependent. We need universal principles and local solutions.

Lost Imagination

Perhaps the greatest marker of the late 2010s and early 2020s is our reliance on historical memory. During the Renaissance, people were searching for new answers. The period was characterized by boundless curiosity and discovery. Artists, scientists and scholars were actively looking for new solutions and wealthy benefactors were willing to sponsor their endeavors. Today, we seem to be more comfortable replaying or remixing old songs than creating new sounds.

We have more movie sequels than ever before in history. In the 1990s, just 11.7% of the domestic box office went to sequels, whereas in the ten years between 2014 and 2023, it was an average of 41.7%. Not only does this demonstrate a lack of creativity but a prevailing culture of playing it safe and being rewarded for the familiar rather than exploring the unknown. From an audience perspective, the familiarity of existing ideas, narratives and norms makes people feel more comfortable amid an uncertain world. A similar trend could be seen with the rise of Y2K fashion and Gen-Z channeling the 1990s core.

The yearning for nostalgia conceals a lack of imagination. If companies, producers and creators continue to feed this nostalgia we end up in an unimaginative feedback loop. We need leaders who have the vision to create new stories rather than mimic the old. With everything that’s happened in the last five years—the first global pandemic in a century, looming planetary destruction and multiple wars—it feels like we have given up on the future. Brands that can show imagination and originality will become pioneers of the new age.

Next-Gen Innovation

Across the globe, multinational corporations are cutting costs and getting back to profitability. Leaders are working hard to align budgets with slower revenue growth. Nonetheless, leaders shouldn’t sacrifice long-term ambitions for short-term gains. The greatest danger is not being prepared for the future. There is little point in short-term cost reduction without a clearly defined strategy. Having a shared vision for the future makes all cost-cutting and investment activities strategic, not tactical. You can start connecting with future consumers and build brand relevance. Without a future strategy, cutting costs to post better-than-expected quarterly returns could be a downward spiral to extinction.

Brands need to constantly update, innovate and reinvent themselves. Even the world’s most valuable and famous brand Nike has struggled due to lack of product innovation. The company focused so much on the past—and the success of its most iconic cultural lines like Air Force 1 and Air Jordan 1—that it stopped investing in the future. As consumer markets become more saturated, competitive and sluggish. Embracing product innovation and new audiences can be the engine of marketing growth. Companies need to seek new opportunities because today’s best practice is tomorrow’s dead end.

This article was written by Kian Bakhtiari from Forbes and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].