Cultural Changes in Attitudes toward Death, Dying, and Bereavement

Cultural Changes in Attitudes toward Death, Dying, and Bereavement

Cultural Changes in Attitudes toward Death, Dying, and Bereavement

Cultural Changes in Attitudes toward Death, Dying, and Bereavement


"Bert Hayslip and Cynthia Peveto compare the findings from the landmark 1970s Kalish and Reynolds' Death and Ethnicity Study to their own present study and examine the impact of cultural change on death attitudes. Focusing on African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic-American subpopulations with Caucasians treated as a comparison group, the authors explore the relation of previous results to the present. Several broad findings include: the shift toward more interest in being informed of one's own terminal prognosis, a more personal approach to funerals and mourning observances, and a greater focus on family and relationships." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


[Tell me what you really think about something you really don't want to think about!]

Social psychologist Richard A. Kalish and anthropologist David K. Reynolds (1976) did not use those precise words, but they did take the risk of asking people to share their personal views on death at a time when such a request was still considered beyond the borders of gentility. Nevertheless, respondents classified as [Black Americans,] [Japanese Americans,] Mexican Americans,] and [White Americans] did respond. This community survey of more than four hundred Los Angeles area residents became foundational for the study of death attitudes within the general U.S. population. A carefully developed and detailed survey it was: the survey included more than a hundred questions and had been refined through eight versions before its use in the final study. The Kalish and Reynolds study was also notable in its inclusion of three subpopulations who had so often been underrepresented in academic research. The results would therefore look more like America than previous (and most subsequent) studies.

The Kalish-Reynolds contribution was welcomed by the growing number of researchers, educators, and service providers who were becoming interested in death-related issues. Basic facts popped out of the data to support the mission of the still-emerging death awareness movement. Perhaps the most persuasive finding was that most adults had experienced personally significant deaths in their lives, often recently. That about two thirds of the diverse responder sample had attended at least one funeral in the previous two years suggested that there was much to learn about the way in which such experiences influenced ongoing lives.

New questions also emerged along with the findings. Why, for example, did the four subpopulations studied have such different patterns . . .

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