More Cremations, Thanks to the Economy

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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.

(MORE: Blame the Economy: There Are Now More Dollar Stores Than Drugstores in the U.S.)

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.

(MORE: The New American Way of Death: No More Cemeteries?)

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.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.