Tag Archives: data

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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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

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The “Nones” And The Funeral

Americans who do not identify with any religious organization or tradition are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, in terms of religious identification, as shown by the data on the “Nones”.

Actually, those data also show that Americans who refuse to even answer survey questions about religious identification are really the fastest-growing segment—but lacking any idea what to do with that information, I will set it aside for now.

The Nones are the latest manifestation of Americans going their own way in religion, a tradition that extends back in the nation’s past and often has been cause for alarm. Thirty-eight years ago, a prominent polling organization noted a movement toward personal religion as harbinger of “an absolute goodbye to the present religious arrangement in North America.”1

That did not happen, precisely at the time, because “church” Christianity in America became stronger through the 1980s and beyond, although the denominations that grew were relative newcomers.

But as sort of a delayed effect, although not necessarily bidding us adieu, the “religious arrangement” of the United States now does seem to be changing.

In the funeral business, such trends merit attention, if only because of the apparent strong link between decreasing religion, and increasing cremation.

A 2015 survey commissioned by the funeral industry found that 91 percent of people with “No organized religion” would consider cremation as an option if they had to make arrangements for someone else, compared with 64 percent of Protestants, 62 percent of Catholics, and 57 percent of “Other,” with large across-the-board increases over the previous decade.2

Cremation as an Option for Friend or Family Member

Source: FAMIC Study, 2015
Definitely or Somewhat Likely 2004 2015
Protestant 41% 64%
Catholic 36% 62%
Other 36% 57%
No Organized Religion 60% 91%

Two trends foretelling a continued increase in cremation are the growing favorable attitude by all Americans—as the numbers above show, each religious segment may be as likely to choose cremation as another option for bodily disposition—and the tremendous growth of the non-religious segment, whose attitudes toward cremation are most favorable of all.

Apart from more cremations, what else might we expect from a nation of less religious funeral buyers?

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The “Nones”: When No Religion Is The New Religion

In the history of the human species, few ideas come more naturally to us than the belief that everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Along with pastors, politicians, and social scientists, funeral directors can be heard observing that the world seems to be losing its religion, and that this is probably a bad thing.

Nothing shows the present ruin more vividly than the light of a sacred past.

Perhaps it is ominous, then, that one of the fastest-growing and largest religious segments in the United States today is the group known as the “Nones,” who comprised 2 percent of the population in the 1950s but now make up between 20 and 25 percent, depending on the survey.

The Nones are defined in the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008 as a “nonreligious, irreligious and anti-religious bloc” who answered the identification question with “None” or “No Religion”. Survey respondents could fall into any of the following categories: “None, No religion, Humanistic, Ethical Culture, Agnostic, Atheist, Secular.”1

Exact percentages of Nones within the U.S. population have varied, but the trend has been similar among all surveys of American religion. Because the Gallup organization has the longest record of tallying such information, I’ve used Gallup results for the past 70 years to create the following graph:2

The data raise interesting historical questions, such as what occurred in America in the 1950s to cause such a return to religion, and then what happened in the 25 years after 1992 to cause such a falling off.

For my purposes, the more relevant questions have to do the “Nones” themselves, including what they believe, and what kind of changes they might signal, or even cause, in American funeral practices.

Even more important, both for people who may be buying funerals and those who may be selling them, is the bigger question of what exactly is the relationship between religion—or lack thereof—and funerals. The Nones give us a useful angle for exploring such questions because they will eventually have a direct influence on American funerals when they make the purchases.

Answering these questions will require a series of posts, beginning here, with a brief look at who the Nones are, and where they really are on the “religious” spectrum.

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