Cremation trends have changed drastically throughout time. Standard ideas about honoring a death usually include a decorated service with a casket, surrounded by flowers and mourners. Death prompts image of a body being gently lowered into the ground as family and friends give their last farewells.
When you think of a funeral, most people’s first thoughts are not cremation. Despite this perception, cremation rates are growing in popularity. For the first time ever, Americans are choosing cremation 50% of the time, and this number is projected to increase to over 70% by the year 2030.
To understand this trend better, let’s look to both history and worldwide trends to find answers.
A Brief History
Cremation has been used for thousands of years. The earliest trace of this practice dates back over 20,000 years ago in Australia, where the now famous “Mungo Lady” urn was discovered. You can watch the ebbs and flows of cremation popularity through the Roman times, the Middle Ages, and now modern day. Depending on the dominating religious and cultural preferences of the time, cremation rates have followed a similar pattern.
Cremation Rates by Location
Cremation rates in the United States have been consistently rising with 34% being cremated in 2007, 42% of people in 2011, and now 50% today. Breaking these averages down by state and region shows interesting patterns. On the West Coast, in states like Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and California, the ratio is well over 50%. In middle America, traditional burials are still popular and rates are typically below 30%. On the East Coast, cremation rates tend to hover in the 30% range except for polarizing Florida, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, which have average cremation rates north of 60%.
A similar rate of increase has been noticed among the countries of Europe as well. Nations in Asia, however, are way ahead of the western world. Leading Asian countries are India, cremating more than 85%, and Japan, cremating at an astounding rate of more than 99%.
So why the switch?
There are a few reasons why cremation is slowly re-taking ground in the United States. First off, cultural acceptance is steadily rising. There is less of a religious stigma, making people feel more comfortable with a choice free of judgement. Another majorly swaying factor is the financial and logistical ease of cremation in comparison to traditional funeral and burial options. Without the need for hearses, caskets, embalming, body transportation, and other services, the cost to cremate is about a quarter of the price of an average, traditional burial. However, this is not to say that people have not found creative ways to spend money on the care of their loved ones’ ashes. Personalization in funerals has found it’s way into the practice of cremation.
The number of ways to memorialize or handle cremains is only limited by the family’s imagination. For families with a sensitive budget, an ash scattering ceremony is free and memorable. Looking for an alternative to an urn or an expensive container? There’s the possibility of using the ashes to create oil paintings, pottery, stained glass, or diamonds. More adventurous families would be more interested in scattering methods ranging from bullets, airplanes, cannons, and fireworks.
Other environmental ways to memorialize one’s cremains include burying a biodegradable urn with a seed and having the ashes grow into a tree. You can also have the ashes mixed with concrete and dropped into the ocean to create a memorial reef.
The recent cremation trends signal how the death is changing quickly. Old traditions are transforming into new, inventive ways to celebrate a life, and cremation is playing a large role in this shift. Share your thoughts and experiences below.