A Few Things about Cremations and What It All Could Mean

A Few Things about Cremations and What It All Could Mean

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For the purposes of this paper, it is important that we take the time to define a term.


\Cre*ma"tion\ (kr?-m?"sh?n), n. [L. crematio.] A burning; esp., the act or practice of cremating the dead.

When taking the time to examine current trends concerning cremation in the Untied States of America today, it is impossible to do so without coming across some very fascinating facts. Before exploring these facts and statistics, it should be noted that before the time of Christ (before the Common Era) it was customary for people to be cremated. Greek people felt that because a death occurred something evil, or bad must have been within the remains of the ounce living person. It only made sense to burn the evil or bad elements that caused the death to occur.

At the time of Jesus¡¦ death, cremation was still widely used as the method of disposition. Jesus, however, was laid to rest in a tomb, where Christians believe he rested until he rose from the dead three days later. With this occurrence, mankind¡¦s methods for handling dead loved ones changed forever. The majority of the western religious groups, predominantly protestant and catholic religions, followed Christ¡¦s lead in not cremating the dead.

As research shows, people today are revisiting the ancient past, and using cremation more and more as an acceptable method for disposition. A 1999 study explores the primary reasons why people are choosing cremation over a traditional burial just before the turn of the twenty-first century. Here are the results from the study (CANA website):

,,« Less Expensive 24%

,,« Environmental considerations/ Uses less land 17%

,,« Simpler/less emotional/more convenient 13%

,,« Preference 11%

,,« Body not in earth 7%

,,« Ashes can be strewn 4%

,,« Religion 2%

,,« Tradition 1%

,,« Other 21%

(See graph 1-1)

To look at these percentages alone, one would notice that there is not an overwhelming single reason for the increased cremation rate. None of these categories are of a majority opinion. Many people are viewing different advantages to the same product, cremation. These same people are not seeing the same advantages in what the funeral industry commonly calls the traditional funeral. For this reason they choose a different avenue from what has been used in the past, and that avenue is cremation.

It is now important to look specifically at how the cremation rate has increased on a national scale in the recent past. (See graph 1-2) The Cremation rate has grown more since 1980 than it grew from the signing of the Declaration of Independence up until 1980.

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(See table 2-1) Very few trends have seen such a sharp increase in popularity, except for perhaps the use of Viagra among elderly men. Every state of the union has seen some sort of increase in the percentage of cremations between the years of 1997 and 2001 except for Tennessee, and Rhode Island. (See table 2-2) This proves that the increase is extremely wide spread, and not simply local to a specific few areas.

The question that comes to ones mind now is: what are some key trends that are affecting cremation? There are quite a few factors or trends to take into consideration. (CANA website) First, (and not in any particular order) people are simply dying at and older age. In 1998 men were expected to live to the age of 73.8 years while women were expected to live to the age of 79.5 years. A second trend is the increased tendency for our elderly to migrate to retirement locations, such as Florida, or Arizona. A third, and in my opinion an important trend, is the fact that cremation in general is becoming more acceptable as a normal form of disposition. Also many people are taking into account the actual or perceived environmental considerations facing society today. Yet another common trend is an increased level of education in the elderly population today. Society is also seeing traditions weakening, as well as religious restrictions diminishing. Culture and/or regional differences are also diminishing.

All of these factors can be part of an embryonic foundation that creates larger scale reasons for the increased cremation levels in our country and society today.

It became essential to do some primary research on the topic of cremation. After choosing two funeral homes, in both the states of Maryland and New York, informational interviews were conducted. Interviews were done both in person and by way of the telephone. The following information was gathered:


1. First interviewed funeral home- Washington D.C.

,,X 2 Locations

,,X 1,000 total calls, between two places

,,X Looking to open third Location

,,X 40% Cremation Rate

,,X 40-50% of the 40% are Direct cremation

,,X The Cremation rate is one a ¡§steady¡¨ incline

,,X Reasons given

o More acceptable in the Churches

o Extremely transient community

o More acceptable over all today

o Higher levels of income/education levels

2. Second interviewed funeral home- Baltimore

,,X 1 Location

,,X 430 total calls a year

,,X 20% cremation rate

,,X 60% of the 20% are direct

,,X Rate is increasing

,,X Reasons given:

o More acceptable in the Churches

o Extremely transient community

o More acceptable over all today

o Higher levels of income/education levels

New York

1. Third interviewed funeral home- Suburb of New York City

,,X 2 Locations

,,X 1600 total calls a year, between two places

,,X Looking to open a number of places around New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania

,,X 70% Cremation Rate

,,X 50-60% of the 70% are direct

,,X Rate is slowing still increasing

,,X Reasons given:

o High income/education levels

o Transient people living in the area

o Progressive area

o Unique funeral home in New York State* (see next page, at the bottom of these statistics)

o More acceptable in the Catholic Church

2. Fourth interviewed funeral home- Syracuse

,,X 1 Location

,,X 275 calls a year

,,X 15% cremation rate

,,X 40-60% of the 15% are direct cremations

,,X Rate increasing

,,X Reasons given:

o More acceptable in community/churches

o Less expensive

o Easier for families

* In New York State, it is illegal to own a funeral home and a crematory together. The Flynn Funeral Home was ¡§grandfathered¡¨ into having both under one business roof. Because of this law, this particular funeral home is one of only three such operations in the entire state of New York.

When comparing the state cremation averages for the two states chosen, one can find some fascinatingly differences. First, in Maryland (2001 cremation % of 24.15- table 2-2) one can see the first funeral home surveyed to be well above the state average for the year 2001. Observing the area where this funeral home is located, one would be able to detect a higher level of education, income, open-mindedness and progressiveness. According to researched trends above, this is, without a doubt, some very important reasons for this firm¡¦s higher cremation statistics. In New York, (2001 cremation % of 20.36- table 2-2) readers find extremely vast results. A proper explanation is given for the very high cremation rate for the third firm interviewed, and unequivocally, this firm aggressively markets their uniqueness to their community. The fourth funeral establishment is more on par with the remainder of the state.

One should notice without having to look too closely at the statistics, that many similar reasons were given for the wide spread increased cremation rate. Many interviewees¡¦s mentioned the increased consent of the local community and/or society and churches. Others dwelled more on the increased education and income levels. Over all, it would be safe to say, that the professionals interviewed echoed closely the reasons given in my research. (CANA website, among others)

Editors Note-

As I struggled through working on this paper, I felt it only necessary to comment on the current condition of this subject of cremation. Not only this, but I like to proof read my own commentary so much that I figured that I no longer needed anymore reasons to share some more of my own thoughts.

It is of my opinion that in general people today are looking for alternatives to what they say is a product that is not worth its value. What am I referring to? The product that I referred to is the traditional funeral service. In 1960 the national cremation rate was just over three and a half percent. (3.56%- table 2-1) In the year 2002, the percentage was estimated to be at just fewer than twenty-eight percent. (27.78 %- table 2-1) This is an increase of somewhere between twenty-four and twenty-five percentage points of the population. It is safe to say that a quarter of the general population, for whatever reason, is no longer seeing the same value in the traditional funeral, forcing them to try cremation. Research tells us that the single largest reason people are choosing cremation is because of cost. (Graph 1-1) However, we can also make the statement that the majority of the people who are choosing cremations are doing so because of some reason other than cost. (Also graph 1-1) Most people have some other reason, other than cost, for choosing to be cremated. What this tells me (and I shed some light on this earlier) is that this one quarter of the American population, referred to earlier, are people who are not seeing the value in the traditional funeral as much as they see the value in a cremation. If funeral directors could have given families more value for their dollars in the past when administering traditional funerals to families, we may not have had the increased cremation rates that we are seeing today. There is no quicker way to drive a consumer away from a product or service than to make them feel ripped off.

As future funeral industry laborers, we need to be mindful of this very issue and not allow this issue to resurface itself. We need to give our families value for their dollar. When families and friends walks away from a funeral that you worked hard to organize, it should be in your best interest to have all who attended to no doubt in their minds that they got everything and than more out of their now justified funeral bill.

This paper leaves off where another one could and probably should start. The topic would be: ¡§How to Completely Satisfy a Funeral Consumer¡K Beyond There Own Expectations.¡¨

¡§Death doth hide, but not divide¡¨- author unknown

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