Turning to Tradition: More than a Quarter of Americans Embrace Religion in Post-COVID Funeral Planning

NFDA 2021 Cremation and Burial Report Shows Increase In Number Of Americans Who View Religion As A Crucial Component In A Funeral, Despite Continued Rise In Cremation Rates

Brookfield, Wis. – The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to increase the average number of deaths in the United States by 494,000 in 2020 and 445,000 in 2021, according to the 2021 Cremation and Burial Report, released by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). While social gatherings – including funerals and memorial services – have fully returned in most communities, the lingering effects of the pandemic continue to impact how Americans grieve and memorialize loved ones who have died.

NFDA members may download a complimentary copy of the 2021 Cremation & Burial Report by visiting www.nfda.org/cremation (click “Cremation – Exclusive Member Resources” link; member login required).

According to this year’s findings, 28% of Americans report stronger personal faith because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of last year, there was an overall increase in the number of Americans who feel religion is a very important component of a funeral. This is in stark contrast to the last decade; in 2012, almost half of Americans over age 40 viewed religion as an important component of a funeral, dropping to 35.4% by 2019. Today, that percentage is back up to 47.3%.

However, despite this embrace of more traditional elements for funerals, cremation rates continue to climb, indicating Americans are more comfortable than ever blending tradition with modern preferences. In fact, many states with COVID-19 “hotspots” reported during the pandemic saw a solid increase in state-wide cremation rates year-over-year.

For example, New York City, the first major COVID-19 hotspot, saw its state-wide cremation rate increase from 49.8% in 2020 to 51.1% in 2021. Similarly, Texas, the state with the highest total number of COVID-19 cases in the country last November (Source: New York Times), saw its state-wide cremation rate increase from 49.1% in 2020 to 51.3% in 2021. Two completely different states with one thing in common: both saw their cremation rates cross the 50% threshold, making it the most popular preference when a Texan or New Yorker dies. Overall, the majority of NFDA-member funeral homes (60.9%) reported increased rates of cremation in 2020, and the trend shows no signs of stopping – NFDA projects the cremation rate in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. will exceed 50% by 2035.

“The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us of the importance of gathering to memorialize a life lived – something we may have taken for granted before,” said NFDA president R. Bryant Hightower Jr., CFSP. “During times of crisis, people often find comfort and reassurance in familiar customs. Therefore, it’s no surprise that during the pandemic, Americans embraced traditional funeral practices, like religion, as they planned services for loved ones and as they think about what they might want for themselves in the future. As funeral directors, we are here to help honor families’ ever-changing preferences by respectfully blending familiar rituals with contemporary preferences, like cremation, to help them plan meaningful and healing services.”

Throughout the pandemic, funeral directors proved their ability to adapt to any situation, need or preference by successfully navigating constantly changing federal and state guidelines on gatherings and funerals. Designated critical infrastructure workers, funeral directors worked tirelessly to serve their communities by finding new ways to help families meaningfully pay tribute to their loved ones within the confines of federal and local guidelines. For example, almost half of NFDA-member funeral homes started offering live-streaming options since the onset of COVID-19 due to state-wide restrictions on large group gatherings, a service many plan to make permanent.

Whether families are looking to organize a traditional religious funeral or a more customized memorial, it can be difficult to know where to start. Answering questions at all stages of planning, Remembering A Life (www.RememberingALife.com), NFDA’s family outreach and education website, offers guidance on where to begin the planning process, the kinds of decisions that families can make and the many options available to make a tribute personal and meaningful. Whether visitors are curious about their own affairs or need fast answers following the death of a loved one, the “Ask a Funeral Expert” tool gives families access to experienced professionals who can answer questions or refer them to a local funeral director.

As the trusted leader and worldwide resource for the funeral service profession, NFDA lists Remembering A Life among their top resources providing helpful information about planning a meaningful service, as well as resources to help people understand their own and others’ grief and loss.


About the NFDA 2021 Cremation and Burial Report:

The statistical projections contained in the 2021 NFDA Cremation and Burial Report were compiled by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Laboratory Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. State-level deaths by method of disposition data were collected from state vital statistics departments or similar state regulatory agencies for the years 2002-19. Other findings presented in the report are from proprietary NFDA research studies, such as the 2021 NFDA Consumer Awareness & Preferences Study.


About National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA):

NFDA is the world’s leading and largest funeral service association, serving more than 20,000 individual members who represent nearly 11,000 funeral homes in the United States and 49 countries around the world. NFDA is the trusted leader, beacon for ethics and the strongest advocate for the profession. NFDA is the association of choice because it offers funeral professionals comprehensive educational resources, tools to manage successful businesses, guidance to become pillars in their communities and the expertise to foster future generations of funeral professionals. NFDA is headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., and has an office in Washington, D.C. For more information, please contact 800-228-6332 or visit https://www.nfda.org/.

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Note: Members of the media may request a complimentary copy of the 2021 Cremation and Burial Report. Please contact: