News / USA

Americans Opt for Cheaper Funerals

Less expensive cremations are up while traditional burials are down

Multimedia

Audio
Nina Keck

The turn away from traditional funerals is taking a financial toll on the US granite and marble industry.
The turn away from traditional funerals is taking a financial toll on the US granite and marble industry.

For years, the U.S. funeral industry was considered recession proof but today, even the bereaved are scaling back and paying more attention to cost.

Many families are forgoing traditional burials for less expensive cremations. It's a change that's having a big impact on all aspects of the funeral industry.

Cutting costs

Lisa Alexandropoulos jokes that most of her friends are funeral directors. She owns a company that sells granite monuments in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Her husband installs burial vaults - the concrete containers that surround a casket.

"Down our way, cremation is up 60 percent," she says. "He used to do 30 funerals a month, minimum. He is down now to about seven or eight a month. It has had a huge impact on us."

Funeral director Gary Stanley in Vermont, where costs for a full funeral start around $7,000 - more than a month's income for many middle-class American families.
Funeral director Gary Stanley in Vermont, where costs for a full funeral start around $7,000 - more than a month's income for many middle-class American families.

Cremation rates have been rising for years. In parts of the country, as many as 70 percent of Americans now choose it over a traditional burial. Alexandropolous says cremation has become even more popular since the economic downturn.

"You can do a direct cremation for $995, whereas a full burial - an average full burial cost is about $8500. So that's a huge difference money-wise."

Those costs can vary greatly, depending on the area of the country and the extra services requested.

Sales down

Randy Garner, spokesperson for the Vermont Funeral Directors Association, says in a small rural state like Vermont a full funeral and the added cemetery costs might start around $7,000 - more than a month's income for many middle-class American families.

"In general, I would say for a full funeral with casket, vault, visitation, all of that, versus having the body cremated immediately and just having a memorial service followed by a burial in a cemetery, something of that nature, it's probably 35 to 40 percent less cost," says Garner, comparing traditional funerals to cremation.

Garner says funeral directors in Vermont have seen revenues drop by 10 to 15 percent. With fewer people choosing traditional burials, casket and cemetery plot sales are down as are sales of headstones, like the ones crafted by Lisa Alexandropoulos. That's taking a toll on the U.S. granite and marble industry.

Granite Industries of Vermont employs 61 people and had sales last year around $12 million. Company president Jeff Martell says that's down from the year before.

"I personally travel to Ohio, Michigan and Western Pennsylvania and have just recently - in June - went on a two week trip out there and the retail monument dealers that I called on - I made probably 50 sales calls in those two weeks - were all down significant numbers 15 to 20 percent."

Time for reinvention

Besides shrinking demand, granite manufacturers are also facing increasing competition from China.  

Martell says he doesn't expect the funeral industry's fortunes to improve any time soon. Americans, he says, have become too mobile to be tied to one place - in life or in death.

"The traditional family had the grandfather in the town - say it was Barre, for instance. You know, the kids stayed in Barre and the grandkids stayed in Barre. That doesn't happen anymore," says Martell. "So there's not such a priority on visiting or going to the cemetery and saying, 'Oh, there's gramps,' and 'There's mom and dad and I want to go to that same cemetery.'"

Lisa Alexandropoulos agrees.

"I think the monument business and the funeral business is never going to be as it was again. I think people now have put their foot down. They don't want to spend that kind of money to put in the ground, they don't want to spend that kind of money just to have it out in the cemetery. And that's why all of us are going to have to reinvent ourselves."

The industry will need to adapt to a generation that has different ideas than their parents or grandparents about the dearly departed.

You May Like

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs