The business of death is changing around the world

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The trend towards fewer burials and more cremations is likely to continue

EVERY minute more than 100 people die. Most of these deaths bring not just grief to some, but also profit to others. America’s 2.7m-odd deaths a year underpin an industry worth 16bnin2017,encompassingover19,000funeralhomesandover120,000employees.InFrancethesectorisworthanestimated2.5bn(3.1bn). The German market was worth €1.5bn in 2014 and employed nearly 27,000 people, a sixth of them undertakers. In Britain the industry, estimated to be worth around £2bn ($2.8bn), employs over 20,000 people, a fifth of them undertakers.

In religious countries, burial is still the norm; Ireland buries 82% of its dead, Italy 77%. But over half of Americans are cremated, up from less than 4% in 1960, and this is expected to rise to 79% by 2035. In Japan, where the practice is seen as purification for the next life, it is nearly universal. Cremation, direct or otherwise, is not the only rival to old-fashioned burial. A study in 2015 found that over 60% of Americans in their 40s and older would consider a “green” burial, with no embalming and a biodegradable casket, if any. Five years before the proportion was just over 40%.


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