The New American Way of Death: No More Cemeteries?

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Death is inevitable. Being buried in a nice cemetery plot—or any plot for that matter—is not.

Business is bad at cemeteries. At the same time that many towns are running out of land that they’re willing to devote to the deceased, people are increasingly opting for cremations, which cost less than half of a standard funeral service. The sales of prepaid plots are down: The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix says they’re down 17% over the past two years, per USA Today. There is also a hot market for the reselling of cemetery plots, one of many odd economic indicators that says something about the times in which we live. People are selling their plots because they find themselves in need of money (perhaps their portfolio just tanked?), and also societal attitudes seem to be changing regarding the importance of a burial.

In a disturbing side note: In Los Angeles, the number of dead bodies not claimed by relatives has spiked, up 36% during the summer. If no one claims the body, you see, the cost of cremating it goes to taxpayers.

Apparently, post-mortem decisions and traditions are not recession proof. People are deciding what to do based on their values, but also what gives them the best value for their money. From USA Today:

Brad Hansen, president of Hansen Mortuaries and Cemetery in Phoenix, said private cemeteries are getting squeezed from customers looking for deals. He said about 68% of Arizonans opted for cremations in the past year, compared with 60% the previous year.

A funeral service can cost more than $6,300, compared to about $3,000 for a cremation service. That doesn’t include the cost of a cemetery plot.

“They see a value in it,” Hansen said.

Perhaps the cemetery business is a dying industry? Ugh. I can’t believe I just wrote that.