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Cremation By The Numbers, CANA Projections Are In

November 3, 2011

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Cremation By The Numbers, CANA Projections Are In

Chicago – As the number of cremations per year in the United States rapidly closes in on the one million mark, another significant benchmark figure is expected to be topped – the 40 percent barrier. According to preliminary 2010 statistics released October 23 by the Cremation Association of North America at its joint convention with NFDA, CANA projected that 40.62 percent of all deaths in the United States in 2010 would result in cremation.

Final 2009 statistics put the actual number of cremations in 2009 at 930,429, as the cremation rate reached 38.14 percent. The figures represent a 1.92 percentage point increase over the 36.22 percent reported in CANA’s final 2008 statistics and 4.04 percent higher than the 34.10 percent reported in 2007.

Based on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, CANA’s preliminary 2010 figures found that the number of deaths dipped 0.5 percent to 2.452 million from 2.473 million in 2009, while the number of cremations is expected to increase 7.3 percent to 998,547 in 2010 from 930,429 in 2009.

CANA noted that the annual growth rate of cremation over the last five years was 1.3 percent each year. The annual growth rate is the difference between the percentage of deaths cremated in 2009 and 2004, averaged over the five-year period. Between 2004 and 09, the percent increase in cremations was 6.9 percent.

With the continuing rise in cremation comes an increase in the number of crematories. Since 2007, when CANA reported 2,026 crematories in the United States, the figure has grown 8.8 percent in 2010, to 2,204 crematories. Despite the increase in the number of crematories, the average number of cremations per facility rose from 408 cases in 2007 to 453 cases in 2010.

To no one’s surprise, CANA predicts the numbers to increase steadily. In 2015, the association projects a cremation rate of 46.57 percent based on 2.4 million deaths and 1.3 million cremations, which is an increase of nearly 135,000 cremation cases, while the number of actual deaths decreases by 25,566. The number of non-cremations is expected to decrease about 11 percent – from the 1,459,475 estimated for 2010 to 1,299,661 in 2015.

“We did a slight change in methodology this year because it appears that the cremation trend is growing at a faster rate in certain states,” said Mark Matthews, CANA past president. “But as you get to higher numbers, it stops because once you get to the 60 or 70 percent range, it slows down because there are fewer people to convert.”

Projected Deaths and Cremations

Matthews said the most important question the association is looking to answer is, “When will cremation be 50 percent of all dispositions?” CANA had always forecast that the 50 percent barrier would be broken in 2018 or perhaps 2017. “It looks like 2017 is pretty good; it is possible sooner,” he said, noting that under one scenario it could be as early as 2015. “What we are doing is looking at our methodologies, trying to perfect them.”

In the United States, the cremation rate has been rising while the death rate has been rather flat and in fact has gone

down, which means more people are opting for cremation at the time of death.

Economic Factors

Matthews noted that hidden under the data is the statistical proof that the cremation rate is growing at a faster percentage as a result of the economy. “In my business, some families are not able to afford the costs associated with earth burial in the cemetery,” he said. “They may even own cemetery property and have another family member buried there and still opt for cremation for financial reasons.

“In my state, California, we are looking for the state data by ethnicity,” Matthews continued. “In California, the shocking growth has been in Latino families that have been opting for cremation. We don’t have the confirmed data yet, but it appears that the traditional types of businesses in which Latino families were doing very well over the past six to eight years, such as construction, had people migrating into California from Mexico to get these jobs. Now the migration is going the other way because, frankly, the housing prices in California are as bad as anywhere in the country.”

Regional Creamation Statistics

More and more often, if there is a death in these families, they are cremating. “We don’t have the confirmed percentage, but it is scary. Those of you who are in or around the cemetery business, as I am, know this is a real problem.” Matthews identified two significant problems in the cemetery business. “One, the growth in your trust funds isn’t there, and it is no different whether you are sitting on millions of dollars for your cemetery trust or your own personal savings,” he said. “Combine that with families that can’t come up with the money for a grave opening and at the table they decide to cremate mom purely for economic reasons. That is showing up in the 2009-10 data. The qualitative data is showing that there is a problem.”

Regional Breakdown

Four regions outpaced the national cremation average, according to CANA’s 2010 preliminary numbers. Pacific states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington) led with a rate of 59.87 percent, followed by Mountain states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico Utah and Wyoming) at 59.13 percent, then New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont) at 44.45 percent and South Atlantic states (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia) at 36.38 percent. Falling well below the national average were the East North Central states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) at 37.59 percent, West North Central states (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) at 37.11 percent, the Middle Atlantic states (New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) at 36.06 percent, the West South Central states (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas) at 29.80 percent and the East South Central states (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) at 20.60 percent.

CANA’s 2009 final statistics were identical for regions three through nine, but Mountain states topped the list at 58.84 percent, followed by Pacific states at 52.84 percent, New England states at 43.65 percent, South Atlantic states at 39.71 percent, East North Central states at 35.80 percent, West North Central states at 34.47 percent, Middle Atlantic states at 33.91 percent, West South Central states at 27.75 percent and East South Central states at 17.93 percent.

All nine geographic regions projected higher cremation rates for 2010 than confirmed for 2009. In fact, every region is forecast to have a cremation rate of at least 20 percent.

In the year-to-year comparison, the East South Central region was up 2.67 percentage points, followed by West North Central at 2.64 percent, Middle Atlantic at 2.15 percent, West South Central at 2.05 percentage, East North Central at 1.79 percent, South Atlantic at 1.37 percent, New England at 0.80 percent and Mountain at 0.29 percent.

The State Breakdown

According to CANA’s final 2009 data, California and Florida continue to lead the United States in cremation volume by a wide margin, with 107,769 and 97,245 cremations, respectively. They are followed by Texas with 49,696, New York with 48,423, Pennsylvania with 42,936, Michigan with 38,876, Ohio with 36,809, Washington with 33,658, Illinois with 33,206 and Arizona with 29,275.

North Dakota, with 1,716, recorded the fewest cremations in 2009, followed by South Dakota with 1,851, Wyoming with 2,120, Alaska with 2,129 and the District of Columbia with 2,135.

Based on percentage of deaths cremated, Nevada leads with a rate of 73 percent, followed by Washington with 69.62 percent, Hawaii with 68.99 percent, Oregon with 67.82 percent, Montana with 64.81 percent, Arizona with 63.05 percent, Maine with 63 percent, Colorado with 62.01 percent, Alaska with 59.62 percent and Vermont with 59.56 percent.

Most states in this category are working from a comparatively smaller statistical base, which accounts for the higher percentages.

Eight out of the top 10 states by percentage of cremation do have one thing in common – geography, as they are Western states. “The farther you are from where you were born, the higher the likelihood that you will cremate,” Matthews said. “That is one of the many correlates that drive the cremation rate. As people moved West, they became detached from the family cemetery and the family funeral home.”

The bottom five states by percentage of deaths cremated, based on CANA’s final 2009 statistics, include Mississippi at 12.54 percent, Alabama at 15.48 percent, Kentucky at 17.43 percent, Louisiana at 19.23 percent and West Virginia at 21.79 percent.

Turning attention north of the border, CANA put the preliminary 2010 cremation rate for Canada at 58.2 percent, based on estimated figures of 186,830 deaths and 108,687 cremations. CANA projects that the Canadian cremation rate will reach 63 percent by 2015.

Behind the Numbers

Matthews called attention to the specific figures in the CANA report. “The number you can trust is the number of deaths, because once it is confirmed, it is reported to the CDC,” he said. “The number that is tougher, depending on the state and how it keeps the data, is the number of cremations.”

Within the past few years, for example, California changed its methodology for collecting cremation data. The state used to charge an $8.50 regulatory fee for every body that was cremated. “That was a couple years ago, and it was a pretty good, reliable indicator. Every crematory quarterly turned in a report,” Matthews said. The law was sunsetted and for about two years, the state did not collect that data, and that is when things went awry. “We went to the [California] health department, and they weren’t polling it that way yet,” he added. “We now have them doing it that way, but they are not included in this report. Still, the numbers don’t seem right in my experience and with other crematory operators. Here’s what I suspect: No one audits the numbers. One department collects one set of numbers and another department collects a different set of numbers and nobody confirms those numbers.

“The best solution is that we get the number right off the death certificate, and to do that, we have to go to the California Department of Health. That is what we have done, and we’ll get the data in three months,” he said. “I am suspicious about the data because I think California has a higher cremation rate than what is being reported. More importantly, it represents 10 percent of the cremations across the country.”

Aside from the five major trends affecting cremation – cost, range of options, environmental impact, geography and religious acceptance – Matthews offered several key correlations on why people choose cremation. These include:

  • The higher the education, the higher the cremation rate.
  • The higher the income, the higher the cremation rate.
  • Asian populations cremate at a higher rate.
  • Urban communities cremate at a higher rate.
  • African-American populations have a lower cremation rate.
  • Once a family has done a cremation, that family will cremate at a higher rate. They are going to do it again.

State-by-state Cremation Statistics

This article was originally published in the Memorial Business Journal and republished on with permission. For more information on the Memorial Business Journal, an NFDA Publication, please visit: or