Americans are increasingly ditching costly trappings of traditional burials like caskets and church burial plots in favor of cremations to squeeze more value from the way they remember their dead as religious attitudes toward the practice have softened.
By 2025, according to research from the Cremation Association of North America, more than half (56 percent) of America's dead will be cremated.
The Association's most recent report on cremations released last summer notes that reducing human remains to bone fragments instead of burying bodies has caught on so deeply in America, it is already the most popular way to say goodbye to the dead in several states.
Barbara Kemmis, CANA's executive director, based in Illinois, said her organization's research pointed to five main factors driving the trend toward cremations over traditional burials. They include cost, convenience, changing religious attitudes toward cremation, geography and environmental considerations.
"Cremation remains more cost effective or cheaper than burial but we also see related to that is that people are looking at value. They are looking at wanting to allocate more resources to the memorial service or funeral versus the actual disposition (of the body) and so they are choosing cremation," said Kemmis.
According to funeralwise.com, the average cost of a funeral in America exceeds $8,000. Depending on location and other factors, a standard cremation comes at a fraction of that cost.
In 2010, according to CANA's report, Nevada recorded the highest rate of cremation with more than 72 percent of the dead in that state being cremated. Of the 20,369 deaths recorded in the state that year, 14,697 of the bodies were cremated. The nine other states filling out the top 10 cremation rate list in America are Washington, 70.9 percent; Oregon, 69.4 percent; Hawaii, 69.1 percent; Montana, 65.7 percent; Maine, 63.9 percent; Colorado, 63.3 percent; Arizona, 62.5 percent; New Hampshire, 61.6 percent; and Alaska, 61.1 percent. Going by sheer number of cremations by state alone, however, California ranked number one. Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Washington and Arizona followed respectively in the tally.
"We find a correlation between high cremation rates and mountains and water. If you look at the top 10 states you will see that most of them have either mountains and coastline or one or the other," Kemmis explained.
"We think that that has to do with the fact that perhaps people have second homes in those areas and … they may make arrangements for cremation so that if they die away from their primary home it's easier for their families to get their remains back to where they would like to be permanently memorialized," she explained.
Cremation has also helped families who are located in different parts of the country or the world come together in a more convenient way whenever there is a death in the family.
"Cremation is a viable option because then, they can come together at a time that works for everybody and have a memorial service at that time rather than within a short period of time after the death of their loved one," explained Kemmis.
While cost, convenience and location have helped to drive the trend toward more cremations in America, shifting religious attitudes and environmental awareness have also played a role in pushing families toward cremation.
"We find that all major religions in the United States accept cremation as a perfectly fine form of disposition," said Kemmis. "There are a couple of religions, Orthodox Judaism and Islam that prohibit cremation and then Hinduism requires cremation. We also find that people without any religious affiliation are drawn to cremation as well, that's what our research reveals are the drivers."