24 Aug 2020

Is there an optimal age to start planning for death? New research from Urbis, undertaken for the NSW Government, identifies that most Millennials and many Generation X’ers across the state are not considering or planning for their mortality.

But in an age of “death positivity”, it is never too early to start planning for your funeral, burial or cremation. 

Urbis delivered ground-breaking, statewide research that lifts the lid on how people actually feel about planning for death.

Drawing on our expertise in social research, behavioural changes and communications strategy, we developed for Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW a detailed research report, a publicly-released summary report, a death planning toolkit for consumers, and a communications strategy focused on building awareness and encouraging earlier planning for death, all of which can be found here.

The Urbis research found that an important indicator for planning early is planning a funeral for others – of the NSW population, 38% of us have planned for a friend or family member’s death whilst 62% of us have not made funeral arrangement for others. Millennials and, to a degree, Generation X’ers have often not had this experience.

Urbis identified six different groups of people (segments) according to their attitudes towards planning for burial, cremation and commemoration of their lives.

Identifying people by segments, based on common values, motivations and barriers is useful in developing a population-level behaviour strategy because it allows communication messaging to be targeted to drive behaviour change.

All the segments were roughly that same size, except for the Apprehensive or in Denial segment, which was almost double the size and the least comfortable talking about death than any other group.

Most young people fit into the “Uninitiated” segment. They have not considered what their funeral would look like, 82% do not have a will and 76% have never been involved with planning a funeral before.

The following is a breakdown of the six behavioural segments identified:

  1. Pragmatic and Prepared: 14%. Comfortable talking about death and dying, experience in planning a funeral.
  2. Religion is Important: 15%. Comfortable talking about death and dying, have a strong preference for a religious and traditional funeral, intend to plan for their death, over half have been involved in planning a funeral.
  3. Not a Priority Right Now: 13%. This group find it difficult to acknowledge their mortality, have a high importance on family and worry about the financial burden of planning a funeral on family, have strong support for the use of cemeteries, have a strong environmental focus and are supportive of alternative methods of burial or cremation.
  4. Uninitiated: 16%. Difficulty acknowledging or talking about death, have not thought about what their funeral would look like, most do not have a will, and most have never been involved with planning a funeral.
  5. Apprehensive or in Denial: 28%. Uncomfortable talking about death or dying, and most have never been involved in planning a funeral.
  6. Easygoing Progressives: 15%. Very comfortable talking about death and dying, have low levels of planning for end-of-life, and have a strong environmental focus.

According to the Urbis research, people under the age of 34 are much more likely to have concerns about the environmental impacts of burial and cremation, than their older peers.

There are increasingly more sustainable options entering the market. Such as coffins that are made from biodegradable materials as opposed to timber, metal and fabrics with synthetic fibres that can take decades to break down. Or natural burials which involve burying a body that’s not embalmed in a biodegradable vessel or shroud. This can be done in a conventional cemetery or in a green cemetery that more closely resembles bushland.

To access the summary report of our research and the death planning toolkit and start making your own plans, head to the Cemeteries and Crematoria NSW website.

Further information can also be found in Urbis Director Dianne Knott’s interview with the ABC, which can be found here from 1:35. 

Urbis’s multi-disciplinary team is experienced in delivering evidence-based communications strategies grounded in a sound understanding of behaviour change. We help our clients translate research findings into actionable insights.

Dianne Knott View Profile
Caroline Tomiczek View Profile