The Rising Popularity of Cremation: Changing Trends in Burial Practices

Lily Smith

Updated Monday, May 20, 2024 at 8:44 AM CDT

The Rising Popularity of Cremation: Changing Trends in Burial Practices

The Shift from Burial to Cremation

Over the past six decades, the cremation rate in the US has seen a significant increase, rising from a mere 6% to approximately 55% today. This shift in burial practices has led to a decline in traditional burials, with only around 36% of people in the US opting for burial while the majority choose cremation.

The Temporary Nature of Graves

One interesting aspect of burial practices is that cemeteries often lease out grave space for a specific period of time, typically ranging from 15 to 100 years. After the lease expires, the grave may be re-used for someone else. This means that graves are not permanent, and after a certain period (usually 100 years), remains may be removed to make room for others.

Space Constraints and Changing Practices

The issue of limited space has become a significant concern in various parts of the world. For instance, Arlington National Cemetery, a revered burial ground in the US, is facing space constraints and now only accepts cremated remains. In the future, they may need to reconsider their practices, expand their facilities, or even contemplate closure due to the lack of available space.

Unique Burial Practices in Different Cultures

Burial practices vary across different cultures and religions. In Japan, burial space has become such a problem that cremation is mandated by law for all except emperors. Burial is not allowed due to limited space. On the other hand, in Muslim countries, burial is mandatory as per religious customs.

The Surprising Space Requirements for Graves

Contrary to popular belief, the space needed for graves is not as extensive as one might think. The average grave size is approximately 8 x 2.5 feet or 20 square feet. This means that cemeteries only need to be of an average size of 2,700 graves to accommodate the burial needs of the entire US population.

The Changing Fate of Graves over Time

The longevity of graves depends on various factors. Graves with historical significance or graves that families continue to pay for can last longer. However, after a certain period, bodies in cemeteries may be exhumed, headstones removed, and bones placed in an ossuary to make room for new plots.

Challenges and Relocation of Cemeteries

Some older cemeteries face ownership issues, which can lead to the relocation of the cemetery to allow for development. Neglected graves can also be lost quickly if there is no one to care for them. Construction crews may inadvertently stumble upon abandoned gravesites, highlighting the importance of maintaining and preserving burial grounds.

The Vastness of National Cemetery Space

Estimating that almost all of the 200 million people who have died in the history of the US were buried, the total national cemetery area would be about the size of Chicago. This staggering statistic emphasizes the significant amount of space that burial practices have occupied throughout history.

The rising popularity of cremation and the challenges posed by limited burial space have led to a shift in burial practices. Cemeteries are adapting to these changes by implementing new policies, such as leasing grave space for a limited time or accepting only cremated remains. The cultural and religious diversity across the globe further highlights the unique burial practices observed in different parts of the world. As we continue to navigate the evolving landscape of burial practices, it is crucial to strike a balance between preserving traditions and finding practical solutions to space constraints.

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