The joke used to be that the funeral industry was the only truly “recession-proof” business. Not so. Pre-planners and bereaved families alike are finding ways to create a dignified ceremony at a discount. Urn sales are growing far faster than casket sales, according to business news reports, and more and more people worldwide are choosing cremation. For other reasons, too, the industry is scaling back, and funerals are becoming less expensive. When death is inevitable, how is it possible for this industry to be hit by a poor economy, too?
Death Rates Do Change
The need for funerals actually does change with the times. Compared to a generation ago, death rates are down. Thanks to advances in medical care, better safety devices in cars and homes, and more awareness of nutrition and preventative care, people are living longer. A smaller percentage of our population is in need of funeral services at any given time. While this is wonderful for humanity on the whole, this requires a change in the way the funeral industry does business.
Someone Has to Pay for This
While death (eventually) is inevitable, the ability to pay for a funeral is not. As times get tougher, more and more people are dying without insurance or savings. Voice of America news reports that a traditional funeral “. . . and the added cemetery costs might start around $7,000—more than a month’s income for many middle-class American families.” Many of the extras that used to go with the standard funeral—multi-day wakes, limousine service for family members, and expensive caskets—are far less popular. Families simply choose what they can afford. The most thoughtful in the funeral industry know this, and are changing their offerings to make more affordable, yet still dignified, options available. Pre-need planning is also changing the economic landscape: when people plan for themselves, before decisions are clouded by stress and grief, they can consider cost-effective options that allow their families to keep more of the money they will need for other things.
More Choice Equals More Change
Religious and cultural requirements for funerals are becoming more flexible. Some faiths that once required a full-body burial now give their blessing to cremation, as well. And families who, a generation ago, would have automatically gone with a traditional burial are now choosing cremation. Trends are changing in the way wakes and viewings are done, with more creative ways to share memories of the loved one who has passed. There are more options for lasting memorials, too, and the most unique ones are available to those who choose cremation. Custom urns, works of art made from ashes, and the opportunity to sprinkle, bury or send ashes to sea in beautiful settings make more options possible, for less money.
It’s true: there is a recession on, even in the funeral industry. It has been forced to change with the times, just like other industries, but we believe this is for the best.