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

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid