Tag Archives: business

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, 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.

Continue reading Funeral Price Increases Since 1986

The Baby Boom Generation

The next piece in our data puzzle is the reason for the projected future death totals in America. Here we learn that the secret to predicting deaths, is births.

To cut right to the chase, this chart from the U.S. Census Bureau “Current Population Reports”1 tells the story:

Data tables and several additional charts will give a fuller picture, but this one graphic shows why funeral-related businesses are likely entering a tumultuous period, why people who invested in “death care” stocks in the 1990s later asked themselves “what was I thinking?” and why our funeral practices may change in important ways.

Someone looking at business sectors to dabble in during the next 30 years may well wonder if the Census people were sending a message by making the bars on the right side green.

As we will see in future posts, cashing in on death-related services is not as solid a proposition as, say, elder care or other types of services for seniors; nevertheless, implications for the funeral business are guaranteed.

Here is the birth data2 that delivered us to our downward sloping future:

Continue reading The Baby Boom Generation

U.S. Mortality Totals During The Funeral Industry’s Early Years

From this picture of the past and future, what can we learn about the the funeral market in the United States?

(*1880-1930, death registration area death rate applied to total U.S. population count. See below.)

Throughout human history, changes in the big picture environment of a group of people have often led to changes in the way those people live. Changes in social structure leading to changes in culture. Macro affecting micro.

Population increases and decreases would be quintessential examples of the big picture. If a bunch of people start moving into a neighborhood, or leaving, people within that area might end up doing things differently.

An institution like whichever one happens to handle the dead within a given society, being very population-dependent, can be susceptible to changing when there are major demographic shifts. This seems like an obvious sort of observation, but it hasn’t been explored much, especially in the modern context.

Patterns emerge from changes in death totals that should be of interest to anyone concerned with the funeral business, not least of all people working in that industry.

It will take more than a few posts to tell this story, but a key part can be explained very simply by showing what sort of market the first few generations of American funeral directors inhabited.

To skip ahead briefly, however: I will point out that the American funeral industry took shape in the second half of the nineteenth century, first in some of the larger eastern cities, and had become dominant throughout the entire U.S. by the beginning of World War II. Some rural areas such as in Appalachia did not have ready access to modern embalming until the early 1940s.1 But for present purposes, I will note that the funeral business was functioning in many of our major population areas from the 1880s onward.

As mentioned in a previous post, we don’t have complete death statistics from before 1933. But we can do a bit of extrapolation using data we do have to get a fuller picture of death in America. In the early years of mortality counting, from 1880 through 1933, the agencies responsible designated a “death registration area” that began with just a few cities but gradually encompassed the entire country.2 The death registration area death rates are shown in the early years of the 1880-2060 chart posted earlier.

I think the death registration area death rates were probably not too far off from the situation in the rest of the U.S. If we multiply those validated death rates by the actual U.S. population totals for those years from the previous post, we get the following:

*Estimated deaths in U.S., 1880-1930, applying death rate from death registration area to total U.S. population
1880 50,155,783 19.8 993,085
1890 62,947,714 19.6 1,233,775
1900 76,094,134 17.2 1,308,819
1910 92,406,536 14.7 1,358,376
1918 103,202,801 18.1 1,867,971
1920 106,466,420 13 1,384,063
1930 123,076,741 11.3 1,390,767

(I include the out-of-series year 1918 as a matter of interest to show the affect the Spanish flu had, but also because, as a part of the funeral business landscape, 1918 shouldn’t be overlooked).

Let’s take a look at the graph at the top. (Full data list is below):

Continue reading U.S. Mortality Totals During The Funeral Industry’s Early Years