By the year 2035, adults age 65 and older are projected to outnumber children for the first time in American history, according to the 2019 Cremation and Burial Report, released by the National Funeral Directors Association.
With this large of an aging population comes a natural increase in the death rate.
This rise is concurrent with the ever-growing popularity of cremation, which, for the fourth consecutive year, has outpaced the rate of burial.
By 2040, according to the report, the cremation rate in the U.S. is projected to be 78.7% while the burial rate is predicted to be just 15.7%, signifying that cremation is no fading trend — it is the new norm, set in motion by baby boomers’ evolving end-of-life preferences.
“The main reasons for the continued rise in cremation rates are cost, the perceived environmental impact, an increasingly transient population, weakening of traditional religious prohibitions, and changing consumer preferences,” said Mike Nicodemus, licensed funeral director and NFDA vice president of cremation services.
“Baby boomers have been a significant factor in this shift, and their preferences will inform decisions made by the funeral profession for years to come.”
This shift has given funeral-home owners a unique opportunity to adjust business practices to address the impact of cremation and meet changing consumer preferences.
The number of licensed crematories in the United States increased 8.9% over the last two years, and approximately one-third of funeral homes operate their own crematories, with another 11% planning to open their own in the next five years.
The increase in the cremation rate also raises the question of what happens to cremated remains after the fact.
Families have many options and, according to the report, as of 2019, approximately 42% of cremated remains are returned to families, 35.2% are buried at a cemetery, 16% are scattered at non-cemetery locations, and 8.1% are placed in a columbarium.
As the cremation rate rises in the coming years, non-burial options for cremated remains are expected to gain popularity as well.