Funeral Price Increases Since 1986

Since at least the fourth century BC when Herodotus, the Greek philosopher, reportedly criticized lavish funeral practices1, a common complaint about the funeral business has been that the cost of dying is too high. We’ll look at funeral price ranges in detail in a later post, but for now I’ll note the price of a funeral can easily surpass $10,000, depending on where you live, and cremation might be had for as little as $1,000, also depending on where you live.

In his 1921 study of funeral costs, Quincy Dowd recommended cremation “because enlightened choice sees therein a beautiful and economical, not to say Christian, practice.”2 Forty-two years later, Ruth Harmer said the rate of increasing funeral prices was so steep that regardless of how frugally they lived, most people were “dying beyond their means.”3

And we won’t even mention She Who Shall Not Be Named.

Whether something is “too expensive” is not an easy question to answer without context. Providing that context is one of the main rationales of Rational Death.

In comparison to other things we buy, however, prices of caskets and overall funeral expenses have increased more quickly. That is the conclusion of a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) titled “The rising cost of dying, 1986–2017.”

As shown in the following graph “the price of funerals in the United States has risen almost twice as fast as consumer prices for all items. From December 1986 to September 2017, funeral expenses rose 227.1 percent, while prices for all items rose 123.4 percent.”4

Change in consumer prices, 1986-2017

Below is a summary of the BLS data covering 1986-2017.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cumulative percent change since December 1986 in consumer prices for funeral expenses and producer prices for burial caskets, not seasonally adjusted.
Month All items CPI-U Funeral expenses CPI-U All commodities PPI Burial caskets PPI
Dec-86 0 0 0 0
Sep-87 4.1 3.6 4 3.3
Sep-88 8.4 6.9 8.4 6.4
Sep-89 13.1 12.2 12.7 10.2
Sep-90 20.1 19.8 18.8 13.7
Sep-91 24.2 26.4 16.4 17.9
Sep-92 27.9 32.2 18.4 20.8
Sep-93 31.3 39.2 19.1 26.2
Sep-94 35.2 45.8 21.4 30.6
Sep-95 38.6 54.8 25.6 36.8
Sep-96 42.8 62.5 28.6 40.8
Sep-97 45.9 71.4 27.9 45
Sep-98 48.1 77.9 24.2 49.5
Sep-99 51.9 83.9 28.4 53.8
Sep-00 57.2 88.6 35.1 57.8
Sep-01 61.4 96.2 33.7 63.4
Sep-02 63.8 104.8 32.7 69.7
Sep-03 67.6 113.7 38.9 77.6
Sep-04 71.9 122.2 48.1 85.1
Sep-05 79.9 130 62.7 94
Sep-06 83.6 142.7 65.9 105.9
Sep-07 88.7 154.8 74 115.3
Sep-08 98 168.3 97.5 127.2
Sep-09 95.4 177 74.6 148.9
Sep-10 97.7 183.1 85.5 157.3
Sep-11 105.3 189.8 104.3 166.5
Sep-12 109.4 193.8 105 178.6
Sep-13 111.9 202.9 104.5 192.5
Sep-14 115.4 207.5 107 201.5
Sep-15 115.3 215.9 89.7 211.4
Sep-16 118.5 220.9 87.5 221.7
Sep-17 123.4 227.1 95.1(p) 230.0(p)

The report highlights the even more rapid increase of casket prices:

From December 1986 to September 2017, producer prices for burial caskets increased more than twice as fast as producer prices for all commodities. Prices for burial caskets rose 230.0 percent from December 1986 to September 2017, while producer prices for all commodities increased 95.1 percent.

It is interesting that the jump in funeral costs above the CPI began in the early 1990s. More on this in a future post.


  1. Lynne Ann DeSpelder and Albert Lee Strickland, The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying, Sixth (Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2002), 277

  2. Quincy L. Dowd, Funeral Management and Costs: A World-Survey of Burial and Cremation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1921), 1, http://archive.org/details/funeralmanagemen00dowdrich

  3. Ruth Mulvey Harmer, The High Cost of Dying (New York, NY: Collier Books, 1963), 10

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The Rising Cost of Dying, 19862017” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, October 2017), https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/the-rising-cost-of-dying-1986-2017.htm

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