Tag Archives: research studies

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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New Cremation Trends Include Taking The Ashes Home

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

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1990-2015: FAMIC Survey On Preferences For Cremation And Funeral Services

Study Of American Attitudes Toward Ritualization And Memorialization was begun in 1989 as a joint project of numerous funeral/cemetery industry organizations under the umbrella of the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC). The first survey was conducted in 1990 by Wirthlin Worldwide and results were published in 1991, with followups by Wirthlin and then Harris Interactive about every 4-5 years since. The study’s purpose has been to gauge consumer attitudes about the industry as a whole, about the people who work in the industry, and about “ritualization and memorialization” services and products.1 In the early years of the survey, I believe showing changes in consumer attitudes was a primary emphasis of the reports. Recently, however, as I explained in the previous post, in recent FAMIC reports, historical data are not included for certain questions and information on related trends has thus vanished.

But by pulling data from several FAMIC reports we can still find useful information on how consumer opinions about funeral practices have changed as cremation becomes more prevalent.

Subjects: US adults in geographic, gender, and ethnic proportions intended to represent the general population. 1990: 1000 (635 age 40+); 1995: 1001 (584 age 40+); 1999: 1002 (615 age 40+); 2004: 961 (961 age 40+); 2010: 858 (507 age 40+); 2015: 1543 (1238 age 40+). Oversampling of several ethnic groups was conducted to collect data on certain questions. For sets of questions that qualified the respondent, such as “Were you involved in selecting a provider?” the number of valid responses to subsequent items may have been fewer than the total participants because only those who said “yes” to the first would have been asked. The method of the survey changed in 2015 when it was brought online; in previous years subjects were interviewed by telephone.2

Main findings

Between 1990 and 2015, as measured in the FAMIC studies, consumer sentiment regarding cremation has changed 180 degrees from negative to positive—from 61 precent unfavorable to 65 percent favorable.

Evidence for the reversal is most telling in the reasons people now give for choosing cremation: whereas in 1990 there were a couple of main rationales centered on the financial and land-saving advantages of cremation, now there are many. This indicates a tradition so familiar that consumers now see many advantages in it.

Respondents continue to feel very favorably about the people working in the funeral business, and most say they would not want to change anything about the funeral experience. However, perceptions of the value of funeral ceremonies have declined somewhat.

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