Cremation rates continue to rise in Iowa, nationwide

BY BRIANNA JETT | MARCH 07, 2013 5:00 AM

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Funeral rituals are changing.

Cremation is becoming an increasingly popular choice both nationally and in Iowa, and this idea is reflected in the growing number of people opting for the alternative to a traditional burial.

“I think people have become more comfortable with cremation,” said Michael Lensing, the owner of Lensing Funeral Home in Iowa City.

In fact, Dan Ciha, owner of Gay and Ciha Funeral Home, has seen a drastic increase locally.  When he began working, more than 30 years ago, the cremation rate locally sat at around 2 percent.

Today, the Iowa City cremation rate for Gay and Ciha Funeral Home is more than 60 percent, Ciha said, noting that rate is higher than the state’s.

The Cremation Association of North America’s most recent reports show that, from 2007 to 2011, the national rate for cremation increased from 34 percent to 42 percent. In Iowa, the rate in 2011 was 32.6 percent. They predict that Iowa will see a rate of 40.4 percent in 2016.

The number of cremations has risen nationally for many years.

“Every year we see cremation rates rise,” said Barbara Kemmis, the executive director of the Cremation Association of North America. “There’s never been a leveling off in the cremation rate nationally.”

And Ciha said he expects the numbers at his business to continue to rise.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in my lifetime it would be over 80 percent,” he said.

However, the increase in cremation does not mean a complete abandonment of traditional services.

“In recent years, more families use cremation with other options,” Lensing said. “Most of the time, we still bury the cremated remains.”

Ciha estimates half of the cremations he sees are followed by burials. Local officials believe the combination of traditional services with cremation is reflecting a change in culture.

“I think we’re now developing rituals we didn’t have before,” Lensing said.

For the aging population, this increasingly popular ritual can be a good option.

“A lot of the baby-boomer generation is choosing cremation but might have other services,” Ciha said. “It’s a good option, because there are still people who want to go to the cemetery.”

Ciha believes the realization that a person can have some of both options is part of the reason cremation rates are increasing.

“You don’t have to choose not to have services to have a cremation,” he said. “That might also be a part of the reasons for the increase.”

Kemmis reports other factors that might have contributed to the increase in cremations.

“One reason that a lot of people jump to, and is definitely a factor, is cost,” she said.

However, cost is not the deciding factor.

“Some of the poorest families will not choose cremation just because they are opposed to cremation,” Ciha said.

Another reason that could lead to the growing numbers is the variety of options that come with cremation. Cremated remains cannot only be scattered or buried but can also be made into glass art and synthetic diamonds.

“Baby boomers and younger generations want more personalized funeral services,” Kemmis said.

Other factors that have been found to affect cremation rates are interest in environmental impact, geography, and religious acceptance.

“Even in our area of the country there are many different things to do,” Lensing said.

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