"If you are walking in Charleston, you are walking on someone's grave."--Sue Bennett, Charleston tour guide

Monday, November 13, 2017

U.S. Continues Cremation Trend

For the first time, more Americans are choosing to cremate their loved ones, rather than bury them.

In 2016, the U.S. cremation rate climbed to 50.5 percent, exceeding ground burials for the first time.  Japan, Napal and Thailand continue to the lead world with cremation rates that exceed 95 percent. Japan's rate was 99.97 percent in 2014.

Dickinson has taught at CofC for more than 30 years
College of Charleston sociology professor and "death, dying and bereavement" expert Dr. George Dickinson disclosed America's new cremation figure while speaking on Nov. 6 to Patrick Harwood's CofC class, "Beyond the Grave: What Old Cemeteries Tell and Teach the Living."

A big reason for the shift, he said, is the cost comparison. "With earth burials, the average cost is $10,000," Dickinson said. "Six thousand for the funeral home and casket, those are the most expensive parts, then embalming, the hearse (to carry the person to the cemetery), the cemetery plot and burial costs too."

In addition, many cemeteries require the casket be placed in a vault, so that's another big expense, Dickinson said.

By comparison, cremations costs are in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, he said.

The all-time-high cremation figure was reported in July by the National Funeral Directors Association.

This Wikipedia entry includes a table showing 2014 U.S. state-by-state cremation figures. Nevada tops the list with a cremation rate of 75.9 percent. Mississippi has America's lowest figure at 19.7 percent. At 38.1 percent, South Carolina came in at 38th on the list (which includes the District of Columbia). Western states have the highest cremation rates (more than 70 percent) while Southern states report the lowest rates (fewer than 30 percent).

The Cremation Association of North America predicts that by 2020, America's cremation rate will be 54.3 percent.

Dickinson called his talk to the students "The American Way of Death." He spoke of how Americans  tend to avoid death conversations and often use euphemisms instead of saying someone died. "Passed away, went to asleep," are a couple examples he shared.

"The all-American way to die is in your asleep," Dickinson said, "in your bed, in your home, having had a good day before."

But today's reality is that ideal way to "pass" doesn't happen for most Americans. "Eighty percent now die in an institutional setting, away from the familiar arena of home," he said. The two major causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease followed by cancer, he said, adding, "But both have dropped significantly in the last 15 years."

Dickinson told his young audience that there could even be cures to heart disease and cancer by the time they become senior citizens. "The longer we can wait, more breakthroughs are coming," he said.

Click here to see a previous post on this blog about Dr. George Dickinson and his views on life, death and end of life issues.  He is the co-author of "Understanding Death, Dying and Bereavement," a book regarded as a seminal study of these issues.

Dr. George Dickinson can be contacted at the College of Charleston by phone at 843.953.8186 or email at dickinsong@cofc.edu.

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