By Bob Smietana
More Americans are taking the phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” literally these days.
Cremation, which was once rare, has become the most common way for Americans to lay their earthly remains to rest. Just over half of Americans who die this year will choose cremation (53.5 percent) over burial, according to the National Funeral Director Association (NFDA).
That’s up from 32 percent in 2005. If current trends continue, 80 percent of Americans will choose to be cremated after they die by 2035.
The report includes statistics from the past as well as projections for the future. In 2019, more than half of those who die are projected to choose cremation over burial in 31 U.S. states. Burial is expected to be preferred in eight states. The rest of the states are split down the middle. Most of the states where people prefer burial are in the Bible Belt, where people have long resisted cremation.
The report projects that next year 72 percent of people who die in Mississippi, for example, will be buried.
Burial is also projected to be most common next year in:
- Alabama (66 percent)
- Arkansas (55.9 percent
- Kentucky (61.7 percent)
- Louisiana (58.6 percent)
- Tennessee (57.7 percent)
- Utah (57.5 percent)
- West Virginia (55 percent)
Cremation is expected to be most common in Washington state, where 79.1 percent of those who die will be cremated, according to the report.
Other places where cremation is projected to be most prevalent include:
- Alaska (69.3 percent)
- Arizona (70.6 percent)
- California (67.8 percent)
- Colorado (73.5 percent)
- Florida (69 percent)
- Hawaii (74.7 percent)
- Idaho (66. 5 percent)
- Maine (75.7 percent)
- Minnesota (67.4 percent)
- Montana (76.9 percent)
- New Hampshire (75.8 percent)
- Nevada (78.3 percent)
- Oregon (77 percent)
- Vermont (74.5 percent)
- Wyoming (73.7 percent)
Scattered or taken home
The remains of those who have been cremated end up in a number of places, according to the report.
Some (37.1 percent) end up being buried. Thirty-nine percent are given to family. Just under 1 in 10 (8.6 percent) are placed in a columbarium. About 1 in 5 are scattered, either at a cemetery (1.6 percent) or in another location (19.8 percent).
As part of the report, the NFDA surveyed Americans over 40 about their preferences for the final disposition of their remains.
Six in 10 (60.6 percent) say they prefer to be cremated. About 1 in 5 (17.5 percent) prefer burial, while 14.5 percent are not sure.
Among those who prefer to be cremated, half (51.1 percent) want their remains “scattered in a sentimental place,” according to the report.
The NFDA points to several factors driving the increase in cremations. It’s less costly than traditional embalming and burial. Americans also have fewer religious taboos about cremation, especially with the growth of the so-called “nones,” who claim no religious identity.
Americans also worry about the environmental impact of burial and want “simpler, less ritualized funeral practices,” according to the report.
“Cremation has become socially acceptable as more Americans are thinking and talking about death in new ways, and its popularity is expected to intensify,” the report claims.
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.