Views on death are beginning to change as the average lifespan increases; the number of Americans over the age of 65 is expected to rise 26% within this decade, and no state understands that better than Maine. The Pine Tree State’s aging population (65 or older) is predicted to outnumber the young by the year 2020.
Interestingly enough, Maine is one of the 12 states where cremation is growing fastest. Joe Dumais, superintendent at Portland’s historic Evergreen Cemetery, had planned for this boom and added a semicircular columbarium with 300 niches, which can hold as many as 600 cremated remains.
“We’re over 50 percent cremations now, and we know as a nation we’re trending toward cremations,” he said of the interments for that year. “In some cemeteries, it’s as high as 60 percent or more.”
He’s right; by 2022, the U.S. cremation rate is expected to reach 57.8%, showing a marked change in the importance placed on traditional burials. Speculations aimed at the cause of this shift come down to, generally speaking, three things: education, religion, and cost.
The Pew Research Center performed a study that discovered an increase in “religious-nones” in the United States: those who are atheist, agnostic, or do not identify with any religious group are growing at a rapid rate. Fewer than 40% of Americans feel that religion is an important part of a funeral, reflecting this trend.
It’s no surprise that cremation is more affordable than a traditional burial. The National Funeral Directors Association quotes an adult casket funeral with viewing, ceremony, and burial at nearly $7,500. Cremation caskets, on the other hand, run around $1,000 and alternative containers can be as little as $125. If you don’t follow a religion that forbids cremation, it is a more cost-effective choice.
Northwestern states and those in the New England region (such as Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, etc.) all possess a cremation rate of around 75%. These areas statistically have residents that are less religious, more educated, and have transient populations that don’t want to be buried in the place they ended up. Jeff Jorgenson, founder of a green funeral home in Seattle, explains:
“Educated people tend to opt for cremation, and when it comes to transients, those that die there don’t want to be buried there. Additionally, some cultures don’t have a religious purpose for a big ceremony. In the end, cremation is simply a practical way to handle your body.”