Cremation is catching fire as Americans look for low-cost, low-resource alternatives to burial. Cremation often costs half as much as traditional funerals – $4,000 instead of $8,000 – and does not require wood or land space. This combination is putting the heat on traditional funeral homes.
In theory, death care should be immune from short-term economic swings. Death is one of only two sure things in life, and the U.S. population is aging.
“This is one industry that pretty much holds strong regardless of the economy,” says Mike Nicodemus, funeral director at Hollomon-Brown Funeral Homes, a 10-operation chain in Virginia Beach, Va. But costs for raw materials (wood, flowers) are rising, while the flow of customers has slowed. “There’s been a decrease in the death rate over the last six to eight years,” says Phil Jacobs, chief marketing officer at SCI, who’s too polite to note this is bad for business. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. death rate fell from 8.8 per 1,000 in 1999 to 8.5 per 1,000 in 2005. In 2005, fewer people died than in 2002, despite an increase in population.
And while Americans don’t necessarily spend more on funerals during boom times, a slowing economy makes people think twice about opening their wallets for wreaths and high-end caskets. “People are definitely questioning us more on what things cost,” says Robert Biggins, past president of the National Funeral Directors Association and operator of a funeral home in Rockland, Mass.
Cremations are especially popular in retirement states where the elderly have little long-term connection to the land. More than half of all funerals in Arizona and Nevada are cremations, rates that are mirrored in coastal states where land is valuable and scarce.
The single best way to reduce the cost and stress of a funeral is to plan ahead. Funerals are often about guilt, which translates into profits for funeral homes. For more tips, read our post on how to save on funeral expenses.