The U.S. Cremation Rate Exceeds 50%. Now What?
CANA’s member-exclusive Annual Statistics Report Preview, just published in May, shows that 2016 was the year the U.S. cremation rate exceeded 50%. The profession has been anticipating this milestone for some time—so what’s next? What do these numbers mean for crematory owners, funeral homes, industry suppliers, and the consumer?
CANA’s projections show that, at 50.1% nationally, the cremation growth rate is reaching its peak velocity and will begin to slow, but cremation rates will continue to grow across most of the country. Some regions are just now entering a period of rapid growth, while others may have already reached saturation. In order to better understand what factors affect the disparate growth rate of cremation in North America, CANA did some additional in-depth geographic and demographic research.
Our first step was to describe in more detail the reasons for the disparity in cremation growths in various regions. We found that states generally demonstrate a geographic clustering effect, suggesting that what started as individual preference became the norm in the community and heralded a cultural shift to a new tradition: cremation. Cremation will continue to be popular because it is “what we do now.”
CANA’s second step was to look at the speed at which cremation rates grow. When the cremation growth rate over time is measured, an interesting pattern develops. It can take decades for the cremation rate to hit 5%—in the U.S. it took nearly 100 years—but when it reaches 5%, the growth rate is more predictable and steady. There is no evidence that this trend will change or reverse, barring the introduction of a new form of disposition. We are currently in a period of rapid growth that will peak around 60% and then begin to slow until it reaches an eventual plateau. While Canadian rates followed a slightly different trajectory, it is interesting to note that Canada experienced a similar trend.
The last question we tackled was “Why are people choosing cremation in the first place?” There are numerous consumer feedback and business surveys to illustrate consumers’ stated preferences and buying patterns. Many business owners have developed their own theories as to why people choose cremation based on their experiences with the families they serve. But this CANA research is different—it models demographic traits that correlate strongly with cremation rates. The model may be directly applied at the business level.
Whether compelled by circumstance or eagerly searching for new opportunity, more and more of the U.S. population has chosen to roam across the country and around the world. Many have loosened their connections to their geographic origins and increased their exposure to new traditions. Conversely, there are significant portions of the population who are rooted to their hometowns and remain deeply connected to the traditions they grew up with.
The graphic below tells an interesting story of demographic factors indicating a break from tradition in opposition to a more rooted environment, each side correlating with higher or lower cremation rates, respectively.
The characteristics of high cremation areas indicate that consumers’ interest is in new traditions that meet the needs of a roaming, non-religious population. Cremation businesses must define their role in supporting and creating these new traditions. Cremation rates will continue to grow in rooted communities and the need to support memorialization and cremation will only increase.
Many of the findings in this research are likely not surprising but reinforce or help explain trends. It’s more important than ever for business owners to understand their community demographics and the segments of the community they currently reach.
ABOUT CANA RESEARCH
The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) has been tracking national cremation statistics in the U.S. and Canada since our founding in 1913. Based on this data, CANA creates annual statistics reports to document consumer preferences and measure the steady growth of cremation rates across North America. CANA Research is often used by the media to shape their articles and by CANA’s members to guide their future business plans. Read the full report in the most recent edition of The Cremationist or log in to http://www.cremationassociation.org.
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