Why Cremation Rates are Increasing (It’s Not Just About Price)

My husband and I are cheap. He drives a 15-year-old car with 190,000 miles and no air conditioning. I check Facebook and email on a Dell laptop I found on a super sale for $160. We use cell phones that are at least five years old. We don’t pay for cable and usually watch the newest blockbusters whenever they become available at our local library. We clip coupons and shop sales. And we make out like bandits on Black Friday.

When we got married, many of our relatives shared with us this piece of wisdom: Married couples argue about family and finances. Figure out those two things now, and you’ll be money ahead the rest of your life.

Fresh out of graduate school and facing a mountain of student loan debt, we didn’t want to be arguing over payments every month for the next 30 years. So, we organized an honest assessment of our finances. We crunched the numbers and made plans. By our fifth anniversary, we vowed, we would be done paying off student loans.

Our “cheapness” is a reflection of that goal – a temporary lifestyle choice that is driven by our values. Like many of your client families, our buying decisions have little to do with money. Instead, they are a reflection of how we prioritize intangible things like security, peace of mind and marital bliss. Even these decisions – which many would argue are entirely about price – are really about who we are and what we want.

It’s important to keep this in mind when helping your client families plan end-of-life services. When families select lower-cost services like cremation, it’s easy to assume that their decision was motivated solely by price. Recent studies have found, however, that cost is no longer the primary motivator for families who choose cremation. Although it is certainly a lower-cost alternative, many people select cremation for reasons that have nothing to do with price.

A 2015 survey of Homesteaders policy owners found that less than half of those who included cremation in their arrangements did so because of cost. The majority – 56% – selected value-based motivators like family tradition, environmental concerns, convenience and personal preference as their main reasons for choosing cremation.

In Kates-Boylston’s latest edition of The Funeral Director’s Guide to Statistics, Tom Johnson, chairman of Johnson Consulting Group, affirmed his view that price is not the primary source of rising cremation rates. “A lot of cremation families just don’t want to deal with the traditional rituals involving the funeral. Cremation is their escape. Yet many families when presented with various memorialization options will certainly do something, and price is normally not a barrier.”

This sentiment was shared by Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). She observed, “There is price and value, and more consumers are looking at what they get for cremation – many of them want to have memorial services on their own time when people can come together – and cremation offers them that flexibility.”

Kemmis went on to note that as cremation rates increase, more and more families are adopting cremation as part of their end-of-life rituals. “Cremation is becoming a new tradition for families,” she affirmed. “When one family member chooses cremation, it becomes a new tradition, and everyone is interested in doing it.”

As funeral professionals, it’s easy to assume that families think about end-of-life plans the way you do. Cremation, for some of you, is tied to price. The rising rate has serious implications for your business. When you think of cremation, you may think of the gap between direct cremation and the income you would get from a traditional burial. When you look at CANA’s projection that cremation rates will surpass those of traditional burial by 2019, you may worry over how you will cover your expenses if the nature of your business continues to shift.

But remember that monetary decisions – even ones that seem entirely about cost – are often motivated by values. You see cremation in terms of price, but that doesn’t mean your client families see it the same way.

One alternative approach is to focus more effort on your preneed program. A prearrangement conference offers the time and space necessary to have more detailed conversations about choices and motivations. Having these discussions before the time of need is beneficial for everyone. As a business, it helps you gain valuable knowledge about the needs of your client families. For the families, it offers an opportunity to plan a thoughtful, meaningful send-off for their loved one.

Consider your current service offerings. Are there ways you can leverage rising cremations rates as a catalyst for prearranging? Are there areas where you could improve your offerings to better serve families who choose cremation? Could cremation present opportunities for you to offer more creative and diverse services?

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