The death of a loved one is traumatic enough. The scenario of late typically involves difficult decisions and costly medical expenses—followed by a potentially costly ceremony and burial. Increasingly, though, families are cutting expenses by choosing cremation, which costs less than half of the price of a traditional burial.
The economy seems to be changing how Americans feel about the final goodbye. In the mid-’80s, only about 15% of bodies were cremated. The current figure is 41%, and by 2017, it’s expected that cremation will be the choice in more than half of all deaths in the U.S.
Why the shift? Partly, there’s been a change in perception: More and more, families are comfortable with the idea of cremation, and less insistent on “proper” ceremonies, complete with elegant coffins, burials, and cemetery plots.
Part of the reason for this change in perception, however, seems to be because cremation is a much less expensive option. And therefore, it’s a much more attractive option, given the state of the economy lately.
A New York Times story focuses on the rise in popularity of cremation, which has spiked in recent years due to economic concerns. In 1990, 19% of people who chose cremation said that cost was a concern, while in 2010, one-third of those electing cremation noted that the expense was a primary consideration.
Local culture and tradition still seems to play a role. The broad range in cremation rates from state to state demonstrates that. At the low end is Mississippi, where only 13% of deaths are followed by cremation. Mississippi may be one of the poorest states, but apparently people still feel strongly about having a tradition burial. On the other hand, there’s Nevada, which has a 73% cremation rate. Despite widely varying cremation practices, all states have seen a rise in cremation rates since 2005.
While cremations have risen, especially extravagant, over-the-top burials have been on the decline. The custom-designed coffin business has struggled, especially as Walmart, Costco, and others have begun selling cheaper coffins. There has also been a drop in pet burials and pet cemeteries as owners are increasingly choosing cremation for their beloved dogs, cats, and other critters.