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To be, or not to be — buried or cremated

By Robert McGowan IMG_1709

The National Funeral Directors Association predicts, or projects, an increase in cremation rates in the U.S. from 3.56 percent in 1960 to 51.12 percent in 2025.

Interestingly, the actual cremation rate in the U.S. in the 55-year period from 1960 to 2010 increased from 3.56 to 40.62 percent.

The cremation rates tend to be lowest in the Southern and certain Midwestern states. It is suggested that previous research has shown that these states tend to be more religious.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Cremation rates for 2006 show the following interesting rates in descending order: Nevada, 68.41 percent, Oregon, 65.25 percent; Maine, 55.61 percent; Wyoming, 49.63 percent; District of Columbia, 38.26 percent; Kansas, 27.91 percent; Georgia, 22.10 percent; Louisiana, 16.18 percent; Tennessee, 15.99 percent; Kentucky 12.32 percent; Alabama, ll.03 percent; and Mississippi, 9.56 percent.

The source of this information is the 2010 U.S. census.

It is obvious that the Southern States have the lowest cremation rates. Naturally, the question is why?

Several factors enter into people’s decisions for cremation as the choice for acceptance of one’s death. Some suggest that the strongest objective evidence for greater attitudinal acceptance of death may be found in increasing cremation rates. Does that mean that Southerners have less acceptance of death than Westerners? Obviously, the traditional funeral industry practice of body preservation could reflect an intent to preserve the body after death. Obviously, in cremation the body is “burned to a crisp.”

There is, of course, a certain religiosity involved in the decision.

(I realize that this subject could be considered by some to be a bit morbid, but I think rather that it is just plain interesting.)

Now, there are also other considerations regarding choice, and it seems that the expenses involved are a factor in choice of the traditional burial or cremation.

The cost for a traditional funeral can be several thousand dollars. This, of course, is obvious. But the cost of cremation is only a few hundred dollars. Taking these matters into consideration it is likely that the increase in cremation popularity is probably due to a combination of these two factors — expense and increased death acceptance.

My figures used in this column and the suggestions for the increased popularity of cremation are taken from an article written by Richard Dumont in the magazine Free Inquiry: Celebrating Reason and Humanity.

Richard Dumont is the author of three books and numerous articles in several journals, including American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Journal of Higher Education, and Journal of Religion and Society. Free Inquiry is published by the Council for Secular Humanism.

During my 30 years in the classroom (many years ago) I felt honor-bound to give credit when possible and, when proper to do so, to cite my sources of information.

I have been a happy subscriber to Free Inquiry for many years.

Robert McGowan is a former Collierville resident and professor of biology at the University of Memphis. Contact him at (901) 828-6039 or ellen1324@gmail.com.

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