The key changes that cremation has caused in American funerals, as I explained last week, affect the two main segments of the funeral industry. First, ceremonies can be curtailed and no longer need to be held under the supervision of a funeral director, and second, the body no longer has to go to a cemetery.
These funeral home and cemetery effects are not directly related. The ashes can be interred at a cemetery whether or not there was a ceremony, and you can hold rituals regardless of burial plans. Only limited data exist to tell us what consumers are actually doing, because academic researchers do not conduct many studies of funeral purchases (and none recently), and the funeral industry tends to report only partial data—fragments rather than the whole picture. Through the studies already reviewed and some more to come, I will try to create an accurate picture of the overall impact of cremation.
Continuing, then, to build this data puzzle, we turn again to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) for a few more pieces.
CANA, as noted previously, provides complete data on annual cremations performed in North America based on official vital statistics reports.
Although consumer research does not appear to be a CANA priority in recent years, back in the 1990s they did conduct one study that gives a useful benchmark for where things stood before the recent decades of accelerating change.
The CANA Special Report: 1996/97 Cremation Container, Disposition and Service Survey reported on a survey of 241 crematories which asked the crematory operators to provide details of 50 consecutive cremations. They were also asked the total number of cremations they performed during the previous year, which was used to create a weighted value proportionate to the 492,434 cremation performed in the U.S. in 1996. Results had a 90 percent confidence level of being within a deviation of about 5 percent.1
Following are results of the 1997 CANA survey:2