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Steady Trends in North American Cremation Rates*

The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) just released their 2020 report on cremation statistics for Canada and the United States and while the hard numbers are a little shocking, the overall results are what we expected. Nearing the end of 2020, I would have bet my job that cremation rates had increased significantly; high death tolls and heavy restrictions on funerals and social gatherings made it seem like the only possible outcome. Thankfully, I wasn’t entirely wrong and still have a job but the numbers tell an interesting story.

In the U.S., the average annual growth rate per year for cremations is 1.5%, starting at 32.4% in 2005 and rising to 54.6% in 2019. In 2020, the average cremation rate hit 56.1%, right on target. The death toll, however, paints a different picture.

The CANA states that the U.S. saw roughly 500,000 more deaths than the average yearly increase in 2020 than it did in 2019, a considerable jump of over 17% more than a typical, non-pandemic year. The country also saw 321,000 more cremations last year than the previous year, making it a 20% increase. However, if you take the total number of cremations over the total number of deaths, the average sits at 56.1%, a slight increase from 2019. While the death toll and cremation numbers may go back down to pre-pandemic levels in 2021 or 2022, the cremation rate will most likely continue its slow and steady upward climb.

In Canada, the average annual growth rate per year for cremation is 1.1%, starting at 53.8% in 2005 and rising to 72.2% in 2019. Growth actually slowed slightly in 2020, hitting just 73.1%. That might seem odd during a global pandemic but we do see a similar trend to that in the U.S.

From 2010 to 2019, the death toll in Canada rose an average of 5,000 deaths per year. In 2020, the death toll jumped 21,295 to 306,468. The number of cremations, rising an average of 6,470 per year also jumped 18,093 to 224,081. That represents a 9% jump in the cremation numbers but an overall average of just 0.9%.

It is most likely that total number of deaths and total number of cremations will decrease after the pandemic is over but no doubt cremation numbers are here to stay. By 2025, cremation rates are expected to hit 76.8% and 65.2% in Canada and the U.S. respectively. If your cemetery isn’t fully equipped to handle above-ground interment in addition to “traditional” burial, now is the best time to start looking into columbariums.

*All statistics can be found at https://www.cremationassociation.org/general/custom.asp?page=IndustryStatistics

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