Every year in America, 2.5 million people die. In 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, 42 percent were cremated, according to the funeral directors association. That’s double the rate of just 15 years ago. In some states, largely in the West, the cremation rate tops 70 percent. In Washington, it’s 72 percent; in Nevada, almost 74 percent. (The lowest rate of cremation… is Mississippi’s, at 15.7 percent.)
So why the big jump in cremations? There are lots of reasons. One is the softening of the Catholic church’s views of the practice. For centuries – until 1963, in fact – the church outlawed it. The church’s laws still express a preference for burial. But the outright ban is a thing of the past and now, under some circumstances, bishops can permit a funeral mass with cremated remains present.
Another reason for the rise in cremations is the decline in nuclear families. As more and more Americans live far from hometowns and parents, and as family burial plots have waned in popularity and accessibility, millions have turned to cremation as a practical and cost-effective way to care for a loved one’s remains.