Cremation’s Rapid Recent Increase In The United States

During the early decades of the modern rebirth of cremation that began in the late 1800s, the U.S. had more crematories, and performed many more cremations, than in Great Britain, even though the overall U.S. rate was only a couple percentage points relative to annual deaths. In the 1940s, however, cremation took off over there in a way it never had here. In 1967, cremation was used in the majority of deaths in Great Britain, while the U.S. cremation rate was still only 4 percent.1

Cremation increased to account for about a quarter of all death dispositions by the end of the 1990s, at which time the historian of American cremation, Stephen Prothero, observed that the trend had “flattened out.”2.

A 2003 report by the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) showed that the U.S. cremation rate grew from 6 percent in 1975 to 19.6 percent in 1995, and reached 26.2 percent in 2001, for an average annual increase of about 0.8 percent. CANA projected the cremation rate would reach 43.6% by 2025.3

But the increase increased: A 2012 CANA report showed that cremation was actually used in 33.8 percent of U.S. deaths in 2006 and would grow to 42.2 percent in 2011 (see below for chart of annual rate increases).4

In 2013, CANA officer Bob Boetticher, Jr. predicted that by 2018, cremation would surpass burial as a final disposition choice.5 In 2015, CANA was still projecting cremation to pass the 50 percent mark in 2018 and reach 52.9 percent in 2019, after the 2013 cremation rate had increased to 45.2 percent.6

But preliminary data the following year pointed to a 2015 cremation rate of 49 percent and burial rate of only 45 percent.7 Whether or when cremation was actually chosen in a majority of death cases, that particular plurality made all the difference.

The national cremation rate did exceed 50 percent in 2016—50.1 percent, to be exact—but within the industry the milestone was mostly met with a “yawn,” as one industry observer noted. Barbara Kemmis, executive director of CANA, pointed out the annual cremation rate increase had become much higher in recent years, ranging from 1.5 percent to over 2 percent per year. Kemmis predicted the fast growth rate likely to continue until the U.S. national average is 70 percent.8

CANA estimates the current annual growth rate at about 2 percent and projects the 2020 U.S. cremation rate will be 56.3 percent.9

Summarizing the data above, here is a snapshot of the U.S. cremation rate trend since 1967:

1967-2016 National Cremation Rate—U.S Average

  • 1967 4.0%
  • 1975 6.0%
  • 1985 14.9%
  • 1995 19.2%
  • 2001 26.24%
  • 2006 33.8%
  • 2011 42.2%
  • 2013 45.2%
  • 2016 50.1%

And here is the rate of increase since 1996:

1996-2016 Cremation Annual Growth Rate Change—Five-Year U.S. Average10

  • 1996-2001 5.3%
  • 2001-2006 6.8%
  • 2006-2011 8.4%
  • 2011-2016 7.8%

For the first hundred years of cremation in the modern era in America, the annual increase of adoption was so small that it could only be expressed in tiny fractions of a percentage point, and since the growth period began in the 1970s the increase was less than a point per year.

The new century has brought a much faster growth trend, typically described with numerical counts, but which could also be expressed in terms of the worldviews of thousands upon thousands of new people every year.


  1. Stephen R. Prothero, Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 128

  2. ibid., 190

  3. Cremation Association of North America, “Percentage of Deaths Resulting in Cremation Since 1975,” Cremation Info, 2003, http://www.cremationinfo.com/cremationinfo/PDF/crem-data-predict.pdf

  4. “Annual CANA Statistics Report 2011” (Cremation Association of North America, August 2012), 5, http://blcremationsystems.com/CANA_2011_Annual_Statistics_Report.pdf

  5. Gail Rubin, “Bob Boetticher Jr. Discusses Latest Cremation Statistics – August 14, 2013,” accessed February 19, 2015, http://tntr.toginet.com/podcasts/agoodgoodbye/AGoodGoodbyeLIVE_2013-08-14.mp3?type=podpage

  6. Patti Martin Bartsche, “CANA Issues Cremation Statistics: The Story Behind the Numbers,” CFSA, October 2015, http://www.cfsaa.org/news/258005/CANA-Issues-Cremation-Statistics-The-Story-Behind-the-Numbers.htm

  7. Josh Sanborn, “Cremation Now Outpaces Traditional Burials in the U.S.” Time, August 2016, http://time.com/4425172/cremation-outpaces-burial-u-s/

  8. Thomas A. Parmalee, “CANA Statistics Show Cremation Is the New Tradition,” American Funeral Director 140, no. 11 (November 2017): 44–46

  9. “Industry Statistical Information,” Cremation Association of North America (CANA), 2017, http://www.cremationassociation.org/page/IndustryStatistics, accessed April 10, 2018

  10. ibid.; “Annual CANA Statistics Report 2011,” 3

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