Are Millennial’s the Generation the Most Fearful of Death?
Millennials, who are considered as the generation born anytime between the 1980s and the early 2000s, are the children of the ‘baby boomers’ and are typically characterised by their tolerance, civic-mindedness, but also their narcissism. William Strauss and Neil Howe specifically define millennials as being born between 1982-2004. But, in light of the typical characteristics of this demographic (even if they are reductive), how is it that millennials view the hard reality of death?
We know that our approaches to death have changed vastly throughout history; we no longer practise the funeral rites and soul-bearing lamentations of the ancient Greek, nor do we bear in our homes the body of the deceased for all to see and visit as did the Victorians. But have our approaches towards death changed in a more nuanced manner throughout the most recent decades? Could it be the case, as it has been posited, that the millennials are the generation that is most afflicted by a fear of death and dying? We explore the reasons that may contribute to a marked fear of death in millennials, and assess whether or not there is any truth to the assumption that they are noticeably more afflicted than their older and younger counterparts.
It is true that our healthcare systems are advancing, such that far fewer people are dying young as they used to. With an ageing population that is only growing, it is not uncommon that many people will not attend a funeral until they are themselves an adult. Our parents and grandparents are living for longer, and, as such, for a large chunk of many people’s lives death is a more conceptual than real or experienced. As humans, we have the tendency to become more afraid of that which we haven’t experienced first-hand.
But this does nothing to substantiate the claim that millennials, and not their successors (‘generation Z’) have a prolific fear of death amongst them. Given that our abilities as medical professionals are widening, it is safe to assume that the youngest among us are the least exposed to actual death and dying. Perhaps the reality is that both millennials and the generation that follows are likely to have a fear of death based upon its very rarity for them.
Agnosticism and Atheism
It is no secret that, at least in the western world, humans have become increasingly atheistic or agnostic. The decline in religious beliefs in the west has undoubtedly had an effect on our views towards death and dying. Religion offers an answer to the most baffling and life-shattering aspect of our existence; that we will cease to exist becomes part of our very existence, rather than the end of it all.
When we do away with notions of afterlife or ‘god’s plan’, the world looks inextricably bleaker. We don’t like imaging a world in which we, or someone we love, will not exist, and the deterministic aspects of religion have always brought comfort to those imaginings. For many millennials, however, who are products of the generations who suffered the post-war disillusionment of their parents, religion is dead, and death is a stubborn reality. The result is a view of death that yields nothing but fear and grief.
Technology and Social Media
It is rare to find an article that fails to mention millennials in tandem with the phrase ‘social media’, and this one is no different. The reality of this generation is that it saw the birth of an almighty cultural and technological phenomenon which has changed the way we function in all aspects of life. We are all intricately connected to one another online, such that we feel the presence of our friends and family members even when we are hundreds of thousands of miles apart, at any hour of the day.
The death of a person not only halts their actual existence but it also flattens any activity on their social media platforms. When someone amongst us dies today, we have a plethora of online platforms to remember them by, but these platforms will also come to haunt us when we find that we can no longer interact with them using these channels. It is certainly true that death in the digital age is more affecting than ever before.
The factors that are potentially instilling a more profound fear of death in us are exactly those that are responsible for giving us longer, more advanced and more connected lives today. Whilst death is an important reality to come to realise, there is no need for us to live our lives in constant reminder of it. We are astoundingly lucky that in the west we are not living in war-torn environments where death is an hourly occurrence; instead, most of us are made to approach it rarely, and in largely politically tolerant environments where we can heal ourselves and support one another.
Millennials may be afraid of death, but it is a wholly natural feeling that only goes to reflect the sheer advancements that their generation has borne witness to.