In a Move Away From Tradition, Cremations Increase

The reasons include the weakening hold of religion on American life as well as a loosening of strictures against cremation by some denominations. The proportion of consumers 40 and older who think it is important to have religion as part of a funeral has dropped by 20 percent since 2012, according to the funeral directors’ association.

Cost can also be a factor — cremation is usually less expensive than conventional burial.

“Most funeral directors have seen a lot of families move away from tradition, move away from ceremony,” said R. Bryant Hightower Jr., the secretary of the funeral directors’ association, “and in their minds, ceremony and tradition are tied to the burial side more than the cremation side. So they have said, ‘If I want it simple and I don’t want it in a church or a synagogue and I don’t want a rabbi or a minister, then I want cremation.’”


A natural setting that is one space at Woodlawn Cemetery where remains were placed.

Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

The Roman Catholic Church has allowed cremation for decades — in 1963, the Vatican expressed a preference for burial but said that cremation was not “opposed per se to the Christian religion” and that funeral rites should not be denied to Catholics who sought cremation.

Last year the Vatican took note of what it called an “unstoppable increase” in cremation by encouraging Catholics to see that cremated remains were deposited in cemeteries or other approved places. Guidelines approved by Pope Francis were specific about cremation: Ashes were not to be scattered in any way.

Many Catholic cemeteries now have niches and above-ground mausoleums for cremated remains. Andrew Schafer, the executive director of Catholic cemeteries for the Archdiocese of Newark, said the cremation rate at the eight cemeteries he oversees had risen to 18 percent a year, up from 10 percent five years ago.

“Now we’re seeing steady growth of 1 percent a year,” he said. “Here in the Northeast, we’re a little more conservative with our traditions. That could be a reason we do not have the same numbers as on the West Coast, where the cremation rate is significantly higher.”

Mr. Hightower, a funeral director in Carrollton, Ga., said the economy also figured in people’s decisions on cremation. It typically costs less than a third of a funeral with a conventional…

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