How women are returning to the death care industry in droves.
"Women are more patient and more willing to explain things," said Kim Stacey, founder of the Association of Women Funeral Professionals. Additionally, she said, "Women are more able to break down physical boundaries. People will accept a hug from a woman far more willingly than they will from a man." In an industry in which a myriad of consumer protection laws often bewilder surviving family members who are in the process of purchasing funeral services, a woman's supposed superiority in the empathy department can help seal deals. Some funeral homes only allow women to field calls from prospective clients for just this reason.
However, death care isn't a woman's field just yet. Most estimates put the number of women working in the funeral industry well below that of men, despite women's high mortuary school graduation rates. The fact remains that many funeral homes remain small, family-run businesses in which fathers have passed down ownership to sons over generations. And some prejudice still exists. Many women looking to move into the funeral industry say that male owners overlook them. Employers won't harbor doubts about a man's ability to pick up a 300-pound body, but they will with a woman. Those already working in the industry say they feel as though they constantly have to prove themselves.
Women death care workers may not have to put up with these hurdles in the future. For the first time ever, as evidenced by the Funeral Divas and the Association of Women Funeral Professionals, they are organizing and, in turn, developing a group consciousness. As the old guard dies off, the idea of a funeral worker enjoying a giggly getaway in California may not be so far off after all.
Correction, March 26, 2011: In the original version of this article, the author's name was misspelled.
Correction, April 1, 2011: This article originally misidentified Georganne Rundblad as a professor at the University of Illinois-Urbana. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Vinnie Rotondaro is a writer living in Brooklyn, N.Y.