Grave news for cemeteries: Cremation rates in SC, country rising

gmartin@islandpacket.comNovember 13, 2011 

Martin Sauls stands next to the crematory at Sauls Funeral Home in Bluffton.

JONATHAN DYER/THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

  • South Carolina cremation rate

    2005: 19.34 percent

    2006: 22.49 percent

    2009: 28.41 percent

    2010*: 31.42 percent



    Top 5 states by 2010 cremation rate

    Nevada: 73.46 percent

    Washington: 70.96 percent

    Oregon: 69.40 percent

    Hawaii: 68.96 percent

    Montana: 65.66 percent



    Bottom 5 states by 2010 cremation rate

    Mississippi: 13.84 percent

    Alabama: 17.18 percent

    Kentucky: 19.24 percent

    Louisiana: 21.18 percent

    West Virginia: 23.17 percent


    All 2010 numbers are unofficial and not confirmed.

    Source: Cremation Association of North America

More of the nation's deceased are being cremated than ever before, particularly in areas with high concentrations of retirees, such as Beaufort County.

The slumping economy and the number of transplants not firmly rooted in a community could explain the trend, some say.

In 2010, the cremation rate surpassed 40 percent for the first time in the U.S., according to unofficial statistics in a recent report by the Cremation Association of North America.

In South Carolina, that number is nearly 9 percent lower, but the rate here has risen more than 12 points since 2005, to 31 percent.

In Beaufort County, the rate is considerably higher than the state average, according to several local funeral homes.

Sheri Stahl, director of The Island Funeral Home & Crematory on Hilton Head Island, said her facility cremates about 80 percent of the bodies it handles.

Copeland Funeral Services vice president Tom Wright said the Beaufort funeral home has performed more cremations than burials since he started working there in April.

"I guess that's just (the families') wishes," Wright said.

But Stahl has another explanation.

"A lot of the people who live around here don't really have roots in the community," Stahl said. "They move here from elsewhere in the country, and so their families are less likely to have them buried here."

The climbing cremation rates also indicate changing family dynamics, according to Martin Sauls, who estimated that his funeral home in Bluffton cremates about one-third of the bodies it handles.

"In the old days, people were born and raised here," Sauls said. "You'd live around your parents and your brothers and sisters your whole life. But that's different now, and everybody can't just drop what they're doing for a funeral."

Funeral homes in communities with a more stable, entrenched population report conducting far more traditional burials than cremations.

Sauls operates another funeral home in Ridgeland and reports that conventional burials there are much more popular than cremations.

In Hardeeville, Rodney Stiney of Stiney's Funeral Home has scarcely cremated anyone in the four years he's worked there.

"About 99 percent of families here choose a traditional burial," he said. Stiney also said predominantly black communities such as his typically opt for conventional burials as a matter of tradition.

Elsewhere, the slow economy is a contributing factor to the rising cremation rate. Several local funeral home directors reported that traditional burials, on average, cost two to three times more than cremations.

It's one of many reasons for the trend, according to Barbara Kemmis, the national cremation association's executive director.

"Cremation is becoming a new tradition for families all over the country," Kemmis said. "It's a more affordable option; families are becoming increasingly spread out, and religious influences are weakening."

Kemmis said her association has trained about 1,000 people in cremation practices each year for the past four years, and the rate could reach 50 percent within five years.

"It's an exciting time," she said, "to work in the cremation industry."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

Ashes to ashes: Will cremation put burials six feet under?, October 31, 2007

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