The next generation of morticians are female and younger.
“Aren’t you scared?” 24-year-old Jasmine Berrios gets a lot of questions about her work as a funeral director and embalmer – and her answers may surprise you.
Jasmine Berrios doesn't look like the stereotypical image one conjures up when they think of a mortician — a morose older man in a dark suit who's been running the family-owned funeral home business for decades.
She's young, at just 24 years old. And she's a woman in an industry historically dominated by men.
Berrios is a licensed funeral director and embalmer, and a board member of the California State Funeral Directors Association. She is part of a growing trend of young women changing the face of the funeral services industry.
She's also a content creator on TikTok, where she uses the popular social media site to educate people about her unique career path and to dispel the belief that working with the dead is "scary."
"I think the misconception most folks have is that it's morbid and doom and gloom all the time when really it's simply the opposite. It's to be of service to people," Berrios said. "It is to make the grief lighter. It is not to make things heavier."
Berrios first learned about the profession after meeting an embalmer at a family party when she was 11 years old. She said she loved science and wanted to help people, but she wasn't interested in becoming a nurse or doctor.
"He says, 'Well, my job is science and I help people,' And I was like, 'Well, what do you do?' He's like, 'I'm an embalmer,'" Berrios recalled. "And ever since then, that's kind of where the love story started."
And while it may seem strange for a 20-something-year-old to speak passionately about a career that involves daily contact with tragedy and death, Berrios feels honored to be able to help grieving families find peace. Funerals are for the living, she said, they are meant to help those left behind to remember a life.
"I think being able to be the go-to person for someone whose world is crushing means everything to me," Berrios said. "I think being a part of something that's so much bigger than you is so important."
Jolena Grande is a professor in the Mortuary Science Program at Cypress College in California. She recalled that in 1989, when she was just a student in the mortuary program, nearly 95% of her classmates were white males. In 2022, the graduating class was 100% female, with the vast majority of the demographic identifying as Latina or Black, she said.
And those numbers are no fluke. According to the latest data from the American Board of Funeral Service Education, more than 70% of graduates from funeral director programs in the United States are women.
"That's a huge flip because traditionally it's been predominantly men and very few women," said Berrios, who graduated from Cypress in 2020 with only four men in her class. "But now we're seeing an [uptick] of women taking a bigger leap in the profession than ever before."
Yet, despite all the progress, some women say they still encounter barriers. Stereotypes about women not being strong enough to lift coffins, or worries about exposing pregnant workers to embalming chemicals, make some male funeral home owners reluctant to hire women, The Associated Press previously reported.
Gender equity is something the National Funeral Directors Association says it's addressing with its members. The group warned in a 2022 blog post that funeral homes "risk being starved of quality staff if hiring practices exclude a large number of top mortuary school graduates and industry professionals," most of whom are women.
Many women in funeral services have to overcome the propensity for people to think that they don't belong, Grande said.
"We're too young. We're too short. We're too frail. That's not true. That's not true for men or women," Grande added.
In the early 19th century, caring for the dead was very much a women’s role in the U.S. The male dominance in the field began during the Civil War, when embalming fluids allowed families to transport dead soldiers home from faraway battlefields. As the U.S. industrialized funerals and made undertaking a career, embalming required higher education, from which women were then being systematically excluded. Men quickly came to dominate the new death care industry, as did a false notion that women were too squeamish or emotional to handle death.
But over the last few decades, women have entered the field in record numbers. The National Funeral Directors Association attributes the shift to the realization that women naturally posses many of the skills required for the role, like event planning, grief counseling and cosmetology.
Women are natural caregivers and grieving families often relate better to them, Grande said.
"I feel like the men in the profession have said themselves that they feel like we bring a more compassionate touch to it," Berrios said. "We bring a different sense of nurture to the profession and just a different eye for things, like makeup, for example, or what someone should wear or color theory."
The next generation of morticians are also getting younger. Millennials and Gen-Zers are infiltrating the death business and they are killing it on social media.
Berrios has gained nearly 50,000 followers posting about the mortuary business, often tackling stereotypes within the industry with a welcome sense of humor. She shares her thoughts on death and answers commonly asked questions on her TikTok account @jasminethemortician.
And she's not alone. The social media platform, best known for dance crazes, recipes and life hacks, has a niche community of TikTok morticians who have gone viral for their videos promoting what they call "death positivity."
"Having social media and those resources and other doctors who are on social media promoting death education has definitely sort of been that catalyst for young people to be interested in the profession," Berrios said.
And while Berrios doesn't see herself as an influencer, she unknowingly has made an impacted on the career paths of others. Berrios recalled meeting a fan of sorts at a convention in Tennessee last year. She said the girl asked to take a photo with her before revealing that she dropped out of medical school to become a mortician "because of you."
"When she said that to me, I really understood the magnitude of being on social media and talking about this," Berrios said.
Having access to open conversations about death and funerals has helped normalize the subject among a younger generation, one that appears less likely to be death-phobic than their parents or grandparents.
"I think the scariest part is what happens before death," Berrios said. "I think the scariest part, it has already happened. Death is final. It's already done. I think it's not scary. I think with life comes death. I think it's very natural. So I don't think it's scary at all."