The Next Billion: How Gen Z and the Middle Class Will Drive CEMEA’s Economic Growth
How 2024 Was Set in Motion
The region’s economic performance in 2024 will be shaped by the eventful few years preceding it.
For instance, we have seen the biggest drop in inflation in CISSEE, of several monitored regions since 20188, which is offering relief to consumers9. Elsewhere, a boom in the gig economy – the market for freelance and short-term contracts – has insulated workers from downturns in traditional job markets10, boosting wider market resilience.
In the year to come, however, the full impact of interest rate shocks is set to be felt, covering 75% of global consumer spending11. As a result, regions within CEMEA are set to diverge in performance, reflecting their economic backdrops. Consumer spending growth is expected to vary from over 4% for CISSEE to closer to 2% for NALP12.
Why the Creator Economy is Key
To understand Gen Z means to understand the creator economy, worth an estimated $104 billion16, and which plays a huge role in its purchasing choices. “The cultural conversation is increasingly being driven locally,” notes Tarek. Take Netflix, which in 2021 supplied some 9.6 trillion watched minutes from the global TV and film industries, traditionally led by Hollywood; TikTok supplied 22.6 trillion watched minutes from creators that same year – and it is also a dominant force in social commerce17. The impact of this shift can be seen clearly, with 35% of this generation turning to social when they look for a product18. Related to that social experience, personalization is now the expectation, redefining the relationship between consumer and brand.
As the world’s population surpasses eight billion, Gen Z is the key cohort shaping its future economic outlook. Supported by a growing middle class, the demographics of Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) mean the region is poised for new opportunity, explain Wayne Best, Visa Chief Economist; Tarek Abdalla, Chief Marketing Officer at Visa CEMEA, and Mohamed Bardastani, Visa CEMEA Economist.
“We hit the milestone, last year, of adding the eight billionth person to the world,”1 says Wayne Best, Visa’s Chief Economist. “It’s going to take roughly 15 years to hit the ninth billion.” In that time, the driving forces behind the global economy are set to shift significantly, he explains, not least “the changing face of what a median consumer looks like worldwide”.
On a global and regional level, economic outlooks indicate a more immediate slowdown in spending2. Within CEMEA however, regions will diverge significantly. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is experiencing currency pressures – South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria are losing ground against the dollar in recent years3 – while the North Africa, Levant and Pakistan (NALP) region is experiencing cost-of-living challenges, with inflation still a marked concern in Egypt and Pakistan4. However, the worst is likely behind for the Commonwealth of Independent States and South and Eastern Europe (CISSEE), where a rebounding Ukraine is helping to put 2024 on track to mark a second consecutive year of economic growth5. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), meanwhile, continues to benefit from strong inbound tourism6.
Over the longer term, two demographics will be key to the region’s economic growth. The first is the rise of Gen Z, which, together with millennials, makes up more than half of the world’s population and which will increase its share in coming years. The other – and often overlapping cohort – is the middle class, which already accounts for almost two-thirds of total private consumption7.
Gen Z Comes of Age
As Gen Z becomes the main engine driving future growth of the world’s economy, CEMEA is placed to benefit. Gen Z’s share of the global population’s total spend is forecast to roughly double every five years, going from 4% in 2022 to 23%13 in 2035, positioning it as the only generation to show significant spending growth in that period14.
“Gen Z is no longer an opportunity to think about in the distant future,” says Tarek Abdalla, Visa CEMEA Chief Marketing Officer. “The reality is that if you don't have a Gen Z strategy today, you're already losing share, interest, and relevance. The values and characteristics of Gen Z are optimism, entrepreneurship, and a strong financial focus, in addition to cultural pride and digital literacy. This group of consumers live the majority of their lives connected on social platforms that shape their attitudes, opinions and interests, so the role of content and the influencers who create it cannot be overstated and, above all, they were born into a world that was completely digitized,” says Tarek.
Gen Z has high expectations for a seamless digital payments experience, and values brands that foster customer communities in which they can participate15. In line with that desire for a tailored experience, convenience and control in payments are also essential.
Inside the Growing Middle Class
CEMEA is also supported by the spending habits of its middle class, set to grow along with its Gen Z cohort. Globally, Africa and the Middle East are expected to see some of the fastest growth rates in the number of middle-class households by 2030, at 43% and 39% respectively19. Already, Africa and the Middle East have a huge proportion of their populations under 15 years old – 40% and 30% each. “Africa is where the largest share of the working age population will be, so the global working age population is going to start to shift south,” notes Wayne Best. Domestic spending is set to grow in tandem, reflecting patterns previously seen in Europe and North America, as middle-class households buy more electronics and appliances, and travel more20.
In the long term, the importance of these demographics to the region’s future cannot be overstated. By 2026, one in four of the world’s Gen Zers will be based in CEMEA, compared to one in ten in North America and one in five in Europe. That means that the region will account for a larger share of the generation that will be the driving engine of growth in real personal consumption expenditure until 203521. In contrast to other regions with larger middle-aged populations, CEMEA, and in particular Africa, with its young and growing population, rising middle class, and abundant natural resources, are further positioned for growth.
As Mohamed Bardastani, a Visa CEMEA Economist, summarizes: “Looking ahead, CEMEA’s fundamentals remain very favorable, with the demographics to support the economic outlook – simply put it has the working people to support supply, and the households that will have new power to spend. This is a region with opportunity ahead of it – and it is poised to seize it.”