The hottest trend for the newly dead: Cremation

Dying has never been more expensive. So with traditional funerals services and burials costing more than $7,000 on average, Americans are increasingly opting to cremate their mortal remains at less than half that cost.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the rate of cremation in the U.S. is at an all-time high, surpassing the rate of burial in 2016 for the second year in a row. The association's annual report found that 50.2 percent of Americans chose cremation last year, up from 48.5 percent in 2015. Just over 43 percent chose burial, down from 45.4 percent in 2015.

Over the next eight years, cremation rates will likely exceed 50 percent in 44 states, versus 16 states in 2010. The NFDA expects cremations to continue to surge over the next 20 years, reaching nearly 80 percent by 2035. Burial rates are expected to fall to 30.3 percent over the same period.

"This shift has prompted many funeral homes to expand their service offerings to meet the emerging needs of consumers who prefer cremation," said NFDA President W. Ashley Cozine in a statement.  

However, as cremation rise, profits for funeral homes will be hurt. Funeral home revenue is forecast to remain stagnant, even though cremation costs have been climbing in recent years, according to the NFDA.

"To meet the business challenges created by the ongoing rise in cremation rates and the continued decrease in preferences for a traditional funeral, funeral homes, crematories (when allowed by state law) and cemeteries will likely offer more products and services associated with cremation, along with cremation packages and custom urns," the association said.

The NFDA added: "It is predicted that funeral homes will continue expanding their array of extra services offered to families and increasingly focus on niche markets to differentiate themselves and draw attention to their value-added services, such as such as serving groups with diverse cultural and religious preferences."

Besides price, cremation's popularity is growing for several reasons, including the weakening influence of religion: People who aren't devout are more likely to consider cremation for their friends and family. Since 2012, the percentage of Americans who consider it very important to have religion as part of a funeral has decreased from 49.5 percent to 39.5 percent. 

According to Mark Musgrove, past president of the NFDA, people are increasingly holding "celebrations of life" for their departed loved ones.   

These changes in attitudes and practices are hurting the industry's bottom line, Musgrove said, but the funeral industry is changing with the times.

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.