Rewriting the Rules: How Boomers Will Deal with Death

By Rybarski, Michael | Aging Today, September/October 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Rewriting the Rules: How Boomers Will Deal with Death

Rybarski, Michael, Aging Today

Just as they've reinvented or modified every life stage they've entered, the baby boom generation is beginning to rewrite the way America deals with life's final chapter. A major new trend among boomers is to crack open the taboo, question institutionalized approaches to death and replace them with a more personalized, more human model. The geometric growth of hospice care and alternative approaches to funerals, including the increase in cremation and casket stores, indicate that traditional and institutional approaches to the end of life are now undergoing boomerization.

Economics accounts for part of this change. Institutional programs for the end of life are expensive-two to 20 times more expensive than the alternatives. But there is more to it than cost. As they plan for the end of life, often for their parents these days, issues of control, increased choice and a new search for meaning and ritual motivate boomers. The expense and sterility of extended hospital care and one-size-fits-all funerals no longer cut it. They want better ways to say "so long."


In the way of that goal is a lack of knowledge. The end of life remains the last great taboo, about which much of U.S. culture remains silent. As they are wont to do, boomers are breaking the taboo, looking for choices and opening up a dialogue about the end of life. As with the sexual revolution, the end of life is surrounded by myths and half-truths. For instance, in all 50 states, one can have a funeral at home or in a church without using a funeral home. For more than 20 years, federal rules have allowed consumers to purchase caskets and monuments independently of funeral homes, but few know this. Hospice care is entirely paid for by Medicare and can save families thousands of dollars and a lot of grief, but again, many don't realize they have a choice. One reason for this lack of knowledge is a lingering discomfort with thinking and talking about death. Another is a self-interested unwillingness among healthcare and funeral advisers to offer alternative information.

However, the death-care industry is becoming polarized. Options are emerging: home-based hospice care is providing an alternative to hospitals; individualized care and customized burial and memorial services are starting to replace prefabricated funeral home offerings.

Demographics are power, and the cultural impact of the boomers is largely driven by their numbers. When 75 million people confront an issue, it becomes culturally significant. Currently, there are 2.4 million deaths in the United States annually. That figure has remained constant for years. By 2040, though, the total will double to 4.1 million deaths per year, as boomers begin to die in greater numbers. By then, odds are that the process of dying-and the death-care industry-will be substantially altered to fit the boomer generation's needs. It is not the immediate death of the boomers that will drive that change, but the need for them to address the issues surrounding the death of their parents. Psychologically, emotionally, financially and culturally, those changes are occurring today.

Psychographic and socioeconomic forces that have shaped the cohort experience of boomers and their parents are forging this new face of death. Evident among these forces is the extended life expectancy of healthy and ill people alike. When the first boomers were born in 1946, their parents, were unlikely to contemplate the prolonged end-of-life care for their parents made possible by today's medical resources. Also, most grandparents lived in their adult years within 15 miles of the town where they were born. Burial rituals were well established and required little planning or forethought. People who lived close together often shared similar ethnicity, religious beliefs and cultural traditions. When the parents of the Greatest Generation began to die, there was no confusion-and little choice-about what to do.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Rewriting the Rules: How Boomers Will Deal with Death


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?