What Generation Z Brings to the End-of-Life Options Movement

April 26, 2023

When it comes to discussions about death and dying, many might assume that conversations about end-of-life planning are reserved for older people. But a new generation is challenging that narrative and finding new ways to talk about death, dying and end-of-life planning. Generation Z is reframing and embracing conversations to promote end-of-life planning for everyone, regardless of their age.

Generation Z, colloquially known as “Gen Z” or “zoomers,” were born in the mid to late 1990s and the early 2010s. The COVID-19 pandemic abruptly acquainted this generation with death on both a global and personal scale during their most formative years. Some polls estimate that at least 40% of American adults personally know one or more people who died from COVID-19. The pandemic and the associated 2020-2021 lockdowns put COVID-19 and healthcare decisions at the forefront of everyone’s awareness; daily death tolls on the news highlighted the urgency of planning for end-of-life care, and all of this took place during a seminal period of psycho-social development for Gen Z.

Rather than shrink from this historically taboo topic, zoomers are driving a shift toward increased acceptance of conversations around death and dying: One survey found that zoomers are four times more likely than baby boomers (people born in the mid-20th century) to make a “bucket list “for life and plan ahead for death, and three times more likely to talk to their friends and family about death.

Part of this increased openness about death among Gen Z may stem from social media — a trademark feature of their generation, who have never known a world without smartphones. Younger generations are relying more and more on social media to facilitate connections and conversations, and sites like TikTok provide useful ways to share stories about grief and connect with others who are interested in discussing the end of life. The DeathTok hashtag on TikTok is full of hospice nurses, medical examiners, funeral home employees, grief counselors and other professionals involved with end-of-life care. By creating a safe space in which to talk about death, these social media venues have helped people become more comfortable with the topic. Zoomers have jumped at the opportunity to interact with DeathTok content, and they have a penchant for adding elements of frankness and humor to these conversations, which can inject much-needed levity into what otherwise might be viewed as morose discussions.

By approaching death with humor, candor and pragmatism, young people have rapidly accelerated the demand for patient-directed healthcare at death and during all stages of life. The end-of-life options movement benefits from more voices of young people who are unafraid to speak up and challenge the status quo in healthcare.  We need more people demanding person-focused care plans that respect the priorities of all individuals. Generation Z is leading the charge in normalizing end-of-life conversations, catalyzing a positive transformation in the way all of us can plan for and experience the end of our lives.

Compassion & Choices
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