Not only are they planning for the inevitable, but they're also engaging in open conversations about death and quelling fears about mortality in the process.
In a time when discussions about death have long been hushed, millennials and Generation Z are embracing open conversations about end-of-life matters, funeral planning, and the profound impact death has on people's lives.
Many are also rejecting the notion that death should be hidden or feared, pioneering a movement that encourages acceptance, curiosity, and a more holistic approach to the inevitable.
They are doing this through advocacy for eco-friendly burial options, candid discussions, and exploring alternative funeral practices.
The death positive movement among the millennial generation has also created a new flock of influencers talking about death on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
From body-positive to sex-positive, people all over the world are learning to open the doors of communication and talk freely about formally taboo topics. But what about death? The mere mention of the word can cause unease. No one wants to talk about the fact that, yes, every living thing dies, including humans.
However, that appears to be changing, as death positivity has emerged as the new way to look at mortality — particularly among millennials and Gen Z individuals.
What is death positivity?
Death positivity is a cultural and philosophical movement that emerged from organizations like The Order of the Good Death. Founded in 2011 by young funeral director Caitlin Doughty, this organization has expanded the death positivity movement, which promotes open and honest discussions about death and the dying process. It also encourages individuals to embrace and acknowledge the inevitable reality of mortality rather than shying away from it.
However, being death-positive doesn't mean a person is happy after someone passes away. Instead, death positivity seeks to challenge the long-standing societal taboos surrounding death, breaking the silence that often surrounds this aspect of human existence. This movement fosters a more compassionate and informed approach to end-of-life matters, encouraging people to plan for their own deaths, make informed decisions about their funerals, and provide support and comfort to those who are grieving.
It emphasizes the importance of celebrating the lives of the deceased, exploring alternative funeral practices, and considering eco-friendly burial options, such as natural organic reduction. Death positivity also recognizes that a healthy engagement with death can lead to a deeper appreciation of life itself.
Why are millennials more willing to talk about mortality?
Licensed funeral director, embalmer, and sacred grief care practitioner Joél S. Anthony, AKA The Grave Woman, is the founder of The Black Death, Grief, and Cultural Care Academy (BDGCCA), an end-of-life and death care educational institution dedicated to sharing wisdom and knowledge about caring for Black bodies in transition and after death.
Anthony told Healthnews, "Millennials are, in my opinion, more willing to talk about death because it's been a big part of our lives. We have witnessed and been exposed to death non-stop in the media, music, and various forms of entertainment since we were children."
Anthony says examples of this include the COVID-19 pandemic, 9/11, coverage of genocide on the news, video games, movies, violent lyrics, and numerous mass shootings.
"While millennials are openly having conversations about death, it is my opinion that we need to have more conversations about planning for our own deaths on practical, financial, emotional, and spiritual levels,” Anthony said.
Morticians are becoming social media influencers
According to the American Board of Funeral Service Education, in 2017, nearly 65% of graduates from funeral director programs in the United States were female. Funeral directors, primarily women, are rapidly becoming the newest viral influencers on social media sites like TikTok.
For example, Anthony uses social media to have open and honest conversations about death, dying, and worldwide funeral culture through online courses, her podcast, and YouTube channel, and her social media handle @thegravewoman.
In addition to The Order of the Good Death website, Caitlin Doughty also runs the YouTube channel Ask a Mortician.
Jasmine Berrios, a Funeral Director and Embalmer at Hollywood Funeral Home and Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, is another influencer tackling the misconceptions about the funeral industry. Her Instagram and TikTok @jasminethemortician is where Berrios discusses some of the most frequently asked questions about death. And it's gaining popularity, as her TikTok has nearly 50,000 followers.
"Death positivity, I believe, is a misleading title for what it is being defined as. It is defined as accepting the reality that death is natural and that familiarizing ourselves with planning for our death is appropriate," Berrios told Healthnews.
However, Berrios feels death education may be a more appropriate term than death positivity because its meaning is less obscure.
"To become 'death educated' allows the door for this topic to become less taboo, and for more people to question what […] is to be learned surrounding death," Berrios said.
Can being 'death educated' help lessen the fear of death?
"When a community becomes more educated on a topic, it allows for the open discussion to talk it through with others, to learn from one another, normalizing the conversations about death, our choices, and experiences with it,” Berrios explains. “The better educated a community can be surrounding the topic of death, the greater the chance that anxieties surrounding it can be quelled."
Berrios suggests using these strategies to feel less fearful about death:
- Playing games like The Death Deck to help identify questions and concerns about death.
- Watching deathcare content by licensed professionals.
- Talking with licensed professionals in the funeral and deathcare industries to learn about the process.
Millennials are tackling end-of-life matters
According to a 2022 poll, millennials are 61% more likely than baby boomers to have given "moderate thought" to what their funeral service will look like.
To accommodate the growing desire to plan ahead, companies like Dead Happy and Lantern offer services and insurance policies to help navigate this process.
In addition, funeral planning digital tools like Funeralocity and FreeWill, a platform for creating legal wills, were developed with millennials in mind.
People are also leaning towards more non-traditional funerals and burials.
For example, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, 60% of consumers are interested in green burial options due to their environmental and cost benefits. In a green burial, the funeral director does not cremate or embalm a person's body before placing it in a biodegradable coffin without a concrete burial vault.
In addition to thinking about their own end-of-life plans, millennials are utilizing their knowledge about death planning when organizing a loved one's funerals.
"Millenial/Gen Z client families [are] being more death educated and choosing unique items for their loved ones' funeral due to their education they've learned from social media, blogs, and articles," Berrios said. "I have seen more and more individuals openly speak on what they've chosen for their loved one due to what they've learned online."
- Direct Cremate. How Death Positive Millennials are Changing the Funeral Industry.
- The Order of the Good Death. Death Positive Movement.
- National Funeral Directors Association. Gender Dominance In Funeral Service Is Changing.
- NBC Los Angeles. Death becomes her: This Gen Z mortician wants to dispel morbid misconceptions of the funeral industry.
- StudyFinds. Most people want to plan own funeral — and would rather be 'buried in cardboard box' to save money.
- Funeral Consumers Alliance. Green Burial, An Environmentally Friendly Choice.