6 Things You Didn’t Know About The Industry Of Death

January 11, 2016
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Article originally appeared on Huffington Post

Walmart caskets come with free shipping, and other facts you might not know about the business of funerals.

Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. What isn’t certain, though, is how much that death is going to cost you. The Huffington Post took a dive into the industry that provides nearly everyone’s final rite of passage and came up with some interesting facts:

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1. The funeral industry is a $16 billion a year industry, but is shrinking.

Since death doesn’t stop in a bad economy, funeral services is what they call a recession-proof industry. But funeral homes have felt a pinch in the last couple of decades. In 1997 the industry pulled in $12.6 billion (about $18.6 billion in 2015 dollars), according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). In 2012, revenues were $16.3 billion (about $16.9 billion adjusted for inflation). The industry also lost about 20,000 jobs over that period.

Business is likely to get a bit better as a huge crop of Baby Boomers advance through retirement age, but if more of them opt for cremation, which is cheaper, the industry still might not recover to its late 1990s height.

2. The average cost of a funeral is about $7,200. 

That’s up from about $5,500 in 2004, which sounds like a big increase, but is only slightly above inflation ($5,500 would be about $7,000 in 2015 dollars). Cremation is slightly cheaper, but not that much more. Direct cremation, meaning no viewing or ceremony, is the cheapest option, at just over $2,000. There are more details breaking down what the different parts of the funeral cost at the NFDA website.

NATIONAL FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION

3. You can buy a casket at Walmart with the colors of the MLB team of your choice on the liner.

America! This one, featuring the Arizona Diamondbacks, is selling for $2,559 onWalmart.com at the time of publishing. It comes with free shipping. Also, urns are currently on sale.

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4. You will probably be cremated.

Forty-five percent of those who died in 2015 were cremated in 2015, up from 32 percent in 2005. That number is projected to be 70 percent by 2030. However, the most popular choice varies by region. People in northern states prefer cremation, and people in southern states (and Utah) prefer burial. That’s likely to reflect religious differences geographically in the United States.

According to the Cremation Association of North America (yes, we have one of those), religious people tend to prefer burial, while non-religious people prefer cremation. The preference for cremation in America is partially explained by the fact that an increasing number of people don’t describe themselves as religious.

Here’s what the NFDA projects will happen with this regional breakdown by 2025:

NATIONAL FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION

And here’s how the popularity of cremation breaks down globally (once again, note how religious differences between countries tend to mirror their preferences):

NATIONAL FUNERAL DIRECTORS ASSOCIATION

5. You can make yourself into a reef

Reef balls, or artificial reefs, are “hollow concrete modules that resemble igloos someone’s punched a dozen holes into,” according to Mark Harris, the author of the book Grave Matters: A Journey through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial. These structures are put into the ocean near natural reefs in order to encourage growth in areas where the natural reefs have been damaged by human interference.

A company in Florida (and now many others) figured out that it could incorporate these artificial reefs into a burial practice. The body is cremated, then the ashes are mixed with concrete in order to create the reef ball. The company lowers the structure onto the ocean floor, and over time ocean life begins to grow on it.

6. Green burials, with small eco-friendly caskets and no embalming, are becoming increasingly popular

A regular funeral is pretty bad for the environment. The chemicals used for embalming leak into the soil, as does the cement that is generally used to build a vault. Add to that and the sheer amount of materials that are necessary to build a vault, a large rectangular casket and a liner — and you have a pretty wasteful and expensive process.

Green burial advocates talk about going back to an even more traditional process: placing the body in a small casket or sheet and burying it directly in the ground, which is how people did funerals for centuries before the Industrial Revolution.

But while this method is gaining traction, it’s still limited to a few dozen cemeteries around the U.S., out of about 120,000 in total.

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