Death Changes

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Sociology of Death and Dying (SOC 355)
February 28, 2013
Changes in Death Management Practices

One of the first noted changes in the book regarding attitudes towards death can be seen with the advances in mass media. As Technology has advanced, so have the ways in which news is reported to the world. Radio, Television, and the Internet have given the public many ways of receiving information. When situations portray a perceived threat, people turn to mass media for information. The ability to access information regarding worldwide disasters, terrorism, and other acts of brutality make us feel like survivors of death. Because we are able to see and hear about things that we have no firsthand knowledge of, we feel like we are experiencing it to some degree. (DeSpelder, Strickland pg. 6)

During the Vietnam War, television gave people access to images of things that were happening half a world away. In no other time were daily doses of violence to this degree a part of everyday life. Media analyst George Gerbner observed that these depictions of death evoked a heightened sense of danger, insecurity, and mistrust which contributed to an “irrational dread of dying and thus to diminished vitality and self-direction in life” (DeSpelder, Strickland pg. 8)

Life expectancy and Mortality Rates have been affected by technology as well. In 1900, the average life expectancy was 47 years of age in the United States. As of 2005, the average life expectancy rose to 78 years of age. This rise can be attributed to epidemiologic transition which moves the largest number of deaths from the young to the old. In the early days people died from infection due to lack of medication and knowledge on how to treat and prevent. As this knowledge was gained, deaths tended to be from chronic disease processes that are common in the older population rather than young. In 1900, over half of deaths that occurred were to children under the age of 14. That number has decreased to less than 2% and this fact influences how we feel and think about death. (DeSpelder, Strickland pg. 36)

In the 1870’s, nine out of ten Americans over the age of 15 had lost a parent or a sibling. Because medicine and medical care was not advanced, mother’s died during child birth and/or babies were born still born due to lack of prenatal knowledge and care advancement. The family unit was very important and often people in this time period would display postmortem pictures of loved ones who had passed as a testament to this family unit and the common knowledge of their mortality.

One other change that has taken place is death rituals. In the early 1900’s families were more likely to be multigenerational living in the same house. People tended to intermingle with other generations out of necessity. Families lived on large homesteads and it took everyone to make it work. Because of this, multiple generations were present at the death of older family members and rituals and traditions existed. In this day and age people are more mobile and on the move. It is harder to maintain close relationships with family when you don’t live in the same state, let alone city. People appear to be less affected by the death of an older relative when the closeness of the relationship has been lost due to sheer proximity.

Several changes that can be discussed regarding children are their attitudes towards death, their functional ability to understand death, and their desensitization to violence regarding death. Children’s attitudes towards death are much different in this day and age from in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. In that time, families tended to live together in extended family situations possibly on homesteads. There was less access to medical care and things were taken care of at home. Death was something that was seen as a natural part of the living process and happened more regularly because of the generations that cohabitated. In this day and age as generations tend to...
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