In recent years, there’s been a noticeable shift in the funeral industry. Not long ago, it was dominated by traditional burials featuring an elaborate casket, body preservation, and funeral services at a funeral home. Today, cremation has become more common than any type of burial service.
The Latest Cremation Statistics
The funeral industry is heavily regulated, and one benefit of that is accurate data. The National Funeral Directors Association and Funeral Consumers Alliance, along with a few other organizations, regularly collect data on cremation and burial services in the U.S. This data provides a benchmark for determining trends and demands for today as well as years down the road.
Cremation by the Numbers
2015 – That was the year cremation surpassed traditional casket burials for the first time in the U.S. In total, 47.9% of the deceased were cremated and 45.2% were buried. Industry experts anticipated the shift towards cremation, but the pace at which the increase has occurred is faster than anticipated.
Since 2015 the percentage of cremations has steadily risen to the point that in 2019 the national rate was 54.6%.
Projections for the Future
Experts and analysts predict that the rate of cremations will continue to grow in the U.S. in the coming decades. Early estimates show that the cremation rate for 2020 will likely be 56% and keep going up from there. The NFDA projections estimate the cremation rate in coming years will be:
How Cremation Cost Compares to Burial
In America, there are two primary funeral options: cremation and casket burial. For most of our country’s history, burial has been the most popular service. Changes in how the general public views cremation and concerns over the repercussions of burial have caused a dramatic shift.
2019 National Median Cost
For most families, the cost is a consideration to a certain degree if a loved one didn’t make their preferences known. When the expenses are broken down cremation is the most advantageous. The 2019 average costs are:
Cremation – $5,150* (Please note, our cremations start at $945!)
Burial – $7,640* (without vault, plot, headstone and cemetery fees)
*Includes viewing services.
A direct cremation is an even more affordable option. It’s a funeral service that provides cremation only without a viewing. Based on the expenses noted by the NFDA, the national median for direct cremation would be approximately $2,800.
Like cremation, green burials are on the rise in the U.S. They aren’t as common as cremation, but it’s a complimentary service that can be used in conjunction with cremation, which may explain why green burials are increasing.
Funeral Homes vs. Crematoriums
A direct result of the surge in cremations has been a decline in the number of funeral homes across the U.S. over the last 10 years.
2009 – 20,557 funeral homes
2019 – 19,136 funeral homes
Only about one-third of funeral homes have their own crematorium, but that number will likely change. In 2016, 9.4% of funeral directors said they intended to open a crematorium within the next five years.
Where People Are Most Likely to Choose Cremation
While cremation is becoming more common across the U.S., there are regional differences. Traditionally, people on the West Coast have been more likely to choose cremation, and the smallest percentage of people that choose cremation reside in the south.
However, a 2017 report from the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) noted that the tides were changing. They found that there was acceleration and rapid growth for cremations across the south, midwest, and northeast while demand in the west remained steady.
States With the Highest Cremation Rate (2018)
Nevada – 79.8%
Washington – 78%
Oregon – 77.6%
Maine – 76.9%
Montana – 75.8%
States With the Lowest Cremation Rate (2018)
Mississippi – 26%
Alabama – 31.4%
Kentucky – 33.4%
Louisiana – 35.4%
Tennessee – 37.7%
It’s worth noting that all of the states with the lowest cremation rate had larger increases between 2013 and 2018 compared to the states with the highest rate.
States With the Fastest Increase in Number of Cremations (From 2013 to 2017)
California – 26,771
Florida – 22,237
Texas – 20,805
Ohio – 14,708
North Carolina – 13,229
States With the Largest Increase in Percentage of Cremations (From 2013 to 2017)
Iowa – 13.2%
North Carolina – 10.2%
North Dakota – 8.7%
Kansas – 8.4%
Indiana – 8.1%
How Cremation in the U.S. Compares to the World
Even though the rate of cremation is dramatically increasing, the U.S. isn’t the frontrunner in cremation. How common cremation is in a country varies depending on societal norms, history, family tradition, and religious beliefs. For example, some religions such as Hinduism solely support cremation whereas Islam strictly forbids it.
Countries Where Cremation is the Most Common
Japan – This island nation has the highest cremation rate in the world at an astounding 99.97% in 2014.
South Korea – A cremation rate of 90.5% makes South Korea one of the places where cremation is extremely common.
India – Religion, and tradition play a large role in India’s 84% cremation rate.
Denmark – Of all the Nordic countries, Denmark has the highest cremation rate at 76%.
Canada – The national cremation rate in 2019 was 73.1% and is expected to be 77.6% by 2024.
Top Reasons Why People Choose Cremation
Funeral services are a very personal choice. Many considerations come into play for the family when a person has not left directives in a will or made their wishes known before death. Surveys from industry leaders find many people share common motivations for choosing cremation.
#1 reason cremation is chosen over burial.
There’s no denying that cremation has a financial advantage over burial. A survey from funeralOne found that 40.7% of respondents would choose cremation over burial because of the lower cost. Surprisingly, older people are more likely to cite lower costs as their reason for preferring cremation. More than half of people 55 and older said cost was their primary motivation.
2nd most common reason people choose cremation.
As cemeteries expand there is a growing concern over how burials affect our environment and what it can mean for land conservation. A study by Funeral Consumers Alliance found that concern about burial’s impact on the environment was the second most common reason people chose cremation. This is similar to an earlier 5-year study by Wirthlin Worldwide that noted land conservation was the third most common reason with 13% of respondents stating it was the primary factor for preferring cremation over burial.
There is also a demand for innovative processes such as alkaline hydrolysis that make cremation even greener. It’s further proof that concerns over the environmental impact are the main driver for the increase in cremations.
1 in 5 people chooses cremation for its simplicity.
One thing many families share in common during the casket burial process is feeling rushed. There’s a lot to arrange in a matter of days to make funeral home memorial and viewing services happen before the burial. More and more families are realizing the benefit of cremation in terms of it being more streamlined with fewer decisions and having the ability to take their time to plan a memorial.
Memorials outside of funeral homes are important to a quarter of people.
Many people like the fact that a cremation usually entails less traditional memorial services that aren’t held at a funeral home. A 2016 CNN report notes that funeral directors were grappling with a decline in memorial services as cremations increased. Of the people that prefer cremation, 26.6% stated they wanted a memorial service in 2015, but that number had dropped to 14.1% in 2017.
Data from a funeralOne survey found that a memorial where the ashes are scattered in a meaningful way was the third most common reason for choosing cremation. Nearly a quarter of respondents (24.3%) said it was the biggest motivator for choosing cremation.
1 in 4 adults lives away from their family.
Today, families are more spread out than previous generations. It’s not uncommon for adult children to be hundreds or even thousands of miles away when a parent or other family member passes away. In these circumstances, cremation is appealing because it can be arranged long-distance and the remains can be delivered to your location.
74% of people in the U.S. identify with some form of religion.
As noted above, cremation is the norm in some religions to the point that it is the only acceptable end of life service. However, religious formalities can change. One contributing factor for the increase in cremations is changes in how the Roman Catholic Church views the practice. The church now allows cremation with a burial making it acceptable for millions of more people.
Another factor is the increase in people who don’t identify with any religion. The Pew Research Center has found that as of 2019, 26% of Americans identified as religiously unaffiliated. This us up from just 17% in 2009.
Statistics. National Funeral Directors Association. July 18, 2019. https://www.nfda.org/news/statistics
Industry Statistical Information. Cremation Association of North America. https://www.cremationassociation.org/page/IndustryStatistics
CANA Annual Statistics Report 2019 Stats Summary. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.cremationassociation.org/resource/resmgr/statistics/2019statssummary-web.pdf
Survey: Families Share Why They Choose Cremation Over Traditional Funerals. funeralOne. March 11, 2016. https://blog.funeralone.com/funeralone-products/f1connect-website-platform/why-cremation-over-traditional-funerals/
Half in the US choose cremation as views on death change. August 9, 2017.
Cremation Continues to Expand. Cremation Association of North America. https://www.cremationassociation.org/page/CremationContinues
In the U.S., the Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace. Pew Research Center. October 17, 2019.
Spatial Distance between Parents and Adult Children in the United States. Duke University. September 2018. http://public.econ.duke.edu/~vjh3/working_papers/SpatialDistanceFamily.pdf