Tag Archives: cremation

Surveys Show A Trend Toward The Least Expensive Cremation Choices

Cremation’s progress in the U.S. is still in a state of flux. There are differing opinions around the funeral industry about what will happen next, and how the rate of change is changing. Has the cremation trend slowed down or is it speeding up? Are people who buy funerals planning to spend less or more?

Statistics on cremation and its effects on funeral practices are not plentiful but, as we’ve seen over the past dozen or so posts, there is data out there. Some of the questions I would like to see answered are often not addressed systematically, so in order to find out the prevalence of simple (or “direct”) cremation, for example, or what consumers are thinking about traditional funeral ceremonies, information must be cobbled together from various sources. Through that process, the best I think we get is a partial picture.

But I plan to continue work on completing the picture as I find more data to review. In the meantime, here are some final pieces from research by industry consultants and suppliers over the past eight years.

Johnson Consulting Group “Trends & Insights” report

One of the foremost funeral consulting companies reviewed over 235,000 sales records and over 70,000 customer satisfaction surveys from their client firms covering a recent two-year span. The study’s main focus is on information for funeral business owners, including topics related to revenues and profitability that aren’t relevant (at the moment) to this blog—but there are a couple of relevant pieces of information.

From 2014-2016, the study found a trend that matches what we’ve seen in other surveys, of an ever-faster increase in cremation adoption.

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NFDA Reports On Cremation, Ceremonies, And Disposition

An important source of data regarding American funeral practices is the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the oldest and largest of the funeral industry trade associations. The NFDA publishes a periodic report on cremation and burials, drawn from government vital statistics records and surveys of funeral homes, crematories, and consumers.

While the report focuses on information for funeral home managers to serve customers and plan for the future, it also gives another piece of the broader picture of what Americans are doing when they have to make funeral arrangements.

Disposition of Ashes After Cremation

NFDA studies, what was done with cremated remains (percentage of cases)1
2017 2015
Returned To Family 39.0 38.0
Scattered At Non- Cemetery Location 19.8 20.2
Buried Or Scattered At Cemetery 38.7 37.9
Placed In Columbarium Niche 8.6 7.4

Tracking with what we’ve heard from the CANA experts, a solid majority of about 60 percent of cremation customers are bypassing the cemetery—at the beginning of the process, at least—and taking the ashes home with them, either to scatter or keep.

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2011: Cremation Ash Disposition Without Tradition

What Now? Cremation Without Tradition examined the experiences of people who planned, and conducted or participated in, ceremonies for someone who was cremated, with special focus on what they did with the ashes and how the experiences benefited the participants. The cases reflected the current trend in which the former authorities—funeral directors or clergy—have diminished roles or no roles at all. “How to create a ceremony from scratch” may become a widespread matter of interest for homegrown funeral planners in the next decade. Customers may still choose traditional ceremonies and burial of the remains. But more often they are going in a different direction. People who created ad hoc rituals for ash disposition can teach us something about different options for ceremonial treatment of ashes, and also about what makes “ritual,” in the generic sense of the word, work.1

Subjects: 56 adults, ages 20 to 85, average age = 44.3, “who were actively involved in cremation and ash disposition decisions.” 40 were females and 16 males. They described a total of 87 cremation ritual events—78 humans and 9 dogs. Most were current or former residents of California.

Main findings

Over 80% of the respondents said the personalized rituals they created were positive experiences, even when things did not go smoothly.

The act of ritualization came naturally to participants who had begun with no idea of what to do, and even though “Americans were quite aware that they were making things up,” the ceremonies were perceived as meaningful.

About 21% of the cases were buried at a cemetery, or were going to be buried, in whole or in part. Most of these were spouses interred to join a spouse who had already died.

Most subjects believed that scattering was what they were supposed to do with the ashes. Those who did not scatter, without prompting, explained why they had not done so.

Study detail

When someone dies, there are now many options for how to dispose of a loved one’s body, what kind of ceremonies to have, what kind of permanent memorial to have, or whether to have anything at all. Some people will their bodies to “science” and that is the end of it. Some bodies are cremated but no one ever picks up the ashes. For some, there is a funeral with embalming and viewing, and the body is interred at a cemetery after the cremation. In most cases, the only real requirement is that the body be removed from the space of the living, for which there are a limited number of allowed choices, and beyond that anything goes.

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1996: Final Arrangements For Cremation In A Rural Population

A Replication Of Dawson’s Study On Differences In Final Arrangements For Cremation Using A Rural Population Vs An Urban Population was a 1996 Master’s thesis project by a student at the University of Nebraska. The student author’s plan was to follow the framework of the Differences in Final Arrangements study conducted by Dawson, Santos, and Burdick in 1986 and published in 1990 (hereafter “Dawson”). Dawson had surveyed subjects in metropolitan areas, so to expand the project the author intended to use a similar survey among the rural population in various parts of Nebraska to better understand the choices and influences on customers selecting cremation.1

Subjects: Respondents for 28 deceased individuals who were cremated. Average age of deceased 74.5 years. (Author gives data on deceased but not on respondents). Most cases were in rural Nebraska but several were from other areas.

Main findings

Funeral services for these cremation cases were very similar to services for whole-body burial cases:

71% had a ceremony at a church or funeral home, 79% had a graveside service, 86% of the cremated remains were buried, and 79% had a monument or marker at the grave.

Almost the sole influence on the decision to cremate was the preference of the deceased.

Study detail

The key differences between this study and the work by Dawson and colleagues are the small number of subjects and the inclusion of only cremation cases.

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