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Funeral Directors’ Perceptions of Shifting Consumer Funeral Choices

Sat, August 12, 4:30 to 5:30pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 520A

Abstract

According to journalists, the number of requests for non-traditional and unorthodox funerals and methods of body disposition is on the rise, partly a result of the “Baby Boomer” generation who insist on personalized, individualistic funerals for themselves and their deceased loved ones. However, funerals have historically been structured by strict social norms, and some theorists suggest that the increase in non-traditional funerals stems from the secularization of society and turning away from religious ritual (Emke 2002). The purpose of this study was twofold: first, to explore American funeral directors’ perceptions about recent funeral consumption patterns; and second, to explore whether recent funeral consumer choices vary by such social factors as age, religion, ethnicity, and social class. Gathering survey data and qualitative interviews, this study found that the steady increase in cremation rates is first and foremost among the social changes affecting the work of funeral directors and the norms governing funeral behavior. In addition, data suggest an increase in client families’ requests for greater participation in pre-funeral and funeral activities, and an increase in requests for unusual funeral transportation vehicles, but no increase in requests to participate in the body disposition phase of funeral activities.

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