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

    Pentagon: Afghan Hospital Bombing Not a War Crime

    US Central Command's Joseph Votel says probe found tragedy was result of 'extraordinarily intense situation' that included multiple equipment failures

    US Minorities Link Guns with Other Social Ills

    New study finds reduction in gun violence could help lower America’s incarceration rate – the world’s highest - and improve relationships between police, citizens in minority communities

    US Millennials Beat Baby Boomers as Largest Living Generation

    America's young people are about to take over and here's what we can expect from them

    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.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora