Although increasing numbers of people are turning to cremation in general, not everyone is so hot to cremate. There is still a wide variety of cultural, religious, economic and regional factors that influence the decision, as shown by a quick look at cremation rates around the world from 2002:
- Cremation is the dominant form of final disposal in Switzerland (75 percent), Hong Kong (83 percent), the Czech Republic (77 percent), Singapore (77 percent) and the United Kingdom (72 percent). China and the Netherlands cremate about half their dead.
- Argentina (14 percent), Ireland (6 percent), Italy (7 percent) and South Africa (6 percent) have very low rates of cremation.
About 30 percent of deaths in the U.S. were handled through cremation in 2003, compared to only 6 percent in 1975. In the United States, people who choose cremation are more likely to be from the West than the South and are more likely to be white or Protestant than black or Baptist [source: Davies].
A cremation-based funeral can cost thousands of dollars less than a burial funeral, which runs an average of $10,000 [source: Harris]. Funeral directors noted that in a society where people are often transient and move away from their hometown, cremation allows for easier transportation and storage of the remains and lets family members schedule services at a more convenient time.
People are also becoming more aware of the environmental impact of traditional burials, which use an enormous amount of resources, such as rare woods and metals in the casket and cement for a required bunker to line the grave sites, and release toxins from embalmed bodies. The open space used for cemeteries is also a concern for crowded urban areas and countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, where any open space is at a premium.
However, other experts point out that cremations are frequently popular in countries that have plenty of land and open space available, and that funeral homes in America didn't see a jump in cremations during much deeper economic hard times such as the Great Depression [source: Sullivan].
Next, a look at cremation through the ages.