The baby boomer generation has caused a seismic shift in the funeral industry in the last decade. Overall, there has been a large decrease in emphasis on body-centric activities and a resulting shift in focus towards memorial services that honor the life of the deceased person instead.
Personalization of the funeral services to reflect the preferences and hobbies of the person is pervasive: instead of ‘amazing grace’ and ‘swing low sweet chariot’ playing in the funeral home, attendees at a baby boomer funeral would be more likely to hear ‘stairway to heaven’, ‘imagine’ or ‘into the mystic’. And instead of a black hearse, the procession could just as easily be led by a motorcycle, a team of horses, or a covered wagon.
The baby boomer generation includes people who were born from1946 to 1965, approximately 78 million Americans and roughly 28% of our total current population. Exactly as they challenged, rejected, and reshaped their parents’ traditional roles in their own lives with regards to self-identity, gender, sex, marriage, parenting and retirement, they are doing exactly the same in their deaths. As a result, we are seeing less and less formulaic, traditional funerals and finding ourselves in roles that are more grounded in facilitating, event planning and organization, and above all, providing hospitality and comfort. Currently, it is estimated that only 20% of modern funerals are about body disposition and the remaining 80% of the funeral is to provide a healing experience for the surviving family.
Baby boomers also have a lot more options available to them for their funerals, mostly as a result of 1984 legislation which required funeral directors to unbundle their services and provide price lists, allowing for completely customized funerals. Some of the more popular personalization trends include video tributes, slideshows, and displaying personal memorabilia such as musical instruments, sports equipment, etc. In a recent service we did, the family brought their loved one’s Harley Davidson motorcycle right into our funeral chapel, which brought fond memories to those who remembered him as an avid motorcyclist.
For the actual disposition of the body, cremation seems to be by far the most popular choice among baby boomers and families often scatter the ashes in the person’s favorite spot, for example at sea. However, many baby boomers are choosing non-traditional and unusual destinations for their cremated ashes, such as being made into jewelry, or sent into space. Non-traditional, green burials are also gaining popularity among baby boomers, with such choices as no-embalming techniques, eco-friendly cemeteries, underwater reef memorials, and caskets and shrouds made out of fully biodegradable materials.
At the end of the day, exactly as the baby boomers were a defining, rule-changing generation in life, so are they in their deaths; as a result, we are seeing this clearly reflected by the significant changes in our industry.