Tag Archives: research studies

FAMIC Data On Consumer Preferences (Is A Challenge)

Why do people choose cremation? If you have to make funeral arrangements, you might wonder what the differences are between various options, and also what most other people are thinking when they select one over the other. If you are in the funeral business, you’re probably also interested in these questions.

They don’t have simple answers, because they lead to many other questions—which I allude to in describing the scope of this project. I may well expend another 100,000 words digging into the differences between all the funeral choices.

As to questions such as what consumers think and whether they are happy with their choices, we need to pull together disparate research because there are no comprehensive consumer opinion data studies, unfortunately.

About every five years since 1989, the funeral industry has hired a public opinion research firm to survey consumer attitudes. In the 1990s the research partner was Wirthlin Worldwide, but since Wirthlin was purchased by Harris Interactive about 15 years ago the latter (I believe) has been the survey partner ever since. While this would seem to be a great opportunity to understand their customers, as we saw with the 1986 study (and, maybe, the 1996 study), sometimes the industry seems averse to certain research topics.

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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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1986: Differences Between Burial And Cremation Arrangements

Differences In Final Arrangements Between Burial And Cremation As The Method Of Body Disposition examined the funeral and burial arrangements selected by a national sample of customers who chose cremation as the form of bodily disposition, compared to choices made by customers selecting whole-body burial. The project produced interesting results, and is notable for focusing on funeral purchases, which is a rarely-studied topic, as well as for its target audience. Working under the sponsorship of the funeral industry, the researchers were able to collect data from funeral home and crematory customers who were next of kin or very close survivors, whose ages were typical of such customers—which is not often possible for research into funeral practices.1

Subjects: 703 adults who were either next of kin or the closest survivor of people whose arrangements were handled by funeral homes and crematoriums in the cities listed here within the previous 10 to 30 months. Respondents were: 496 females, average age 58.7 years; 207 males, average age 60 years. 470 were bereaved of people who were cremated, and 233 of people buried. Subjects were in six metropolitan areas: Phoenix, Arizona; San Diego, California; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; and Seattle, Washington.

Main findings

Nearly 40% of cremation cases were accompanied by no ceremony at all (19.8%), or a memorial service at a later date (18.7%).

Only 36.4% of cremation dispositions were followed by a social gathering, versus 62.7% of whole-body burials.

Over 57% of cremated remains were either buried (40.4%) or placed in a niche (16.8%).

Neither saving money, nor saving land, nor convenience were cited more as reasons for making the choice of cremation than for the choice for whole-body burial.

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