The popularity of precast concrete products in the US – an $11.4 billion market in 2017 – is on the rise. In many commercial and nonbuilding applications, precast concrete slabs, supports, foundations, roofing, siding, and other products are being increasingly specified because of their durability and ease of installation relative to alternatives such as site-poured concrete and site-erected steel. However, demand in one precast concrete segment – cemetery products – is instead expected to decline. The reason for this is not dissatisfaction with precast concrete burial vaults and mausoleums, but rather a broader trend in the United States away from traditional burials and toward cremations.
Rise in the Popularity of Cremations
After death, the vast majority of bodies in the US are either buried or cremated. Traditionally, burials have been more popular than cremations, as they provide a gravesite for visitations and are required by some religions. However, cremations have steadily grown in popularity over the past few decades, and the number of cremations overtook the number of burials beginning in 2016, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
The main reason that more people are opting for cremations is the cost savings relative to burials. For instance, the costs associated with traditional burials, according to the Cremation Institute, are estimated at:
- Casket – $1,000 – $15,000
- Headstone – $1,500
- Burial vault – $1,300
- Grave plot- $1,000
- Embalming – $700
- Hearse – $300
- Preparation of the body for viewing – $200
In contrast, the typical costs associated with cremation are far more modest, and usually just require the cost of the cremation itself and the purchase of an urn.
Increased Religious Acceptance of Cremations
The growth in popularity of cremations has historically been limited by it being forbidden by many prominent religions. For example, Jewish law explicitly states that the dead must be buried. Cremation is also outlawed in Islam. In Christianity, there is no specific teaching in the Bible about cremation. However, the practice has traditionally not been used extensively, especially in Catholicism, due to the belief in the physical resurrection of the body. In fact, during his rule the emperor Charlemagne made the cremation of bodies a crime punishable by death (though unfortunately for the sake of irony, not by burning at the stake).
More recently, Christianity has softened its stance on cremations, with the Vatican stating that cremation is permitted as long as it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.
Impact on the Precast Concrete Industry
Precast concrete cemetery products include vaults, mausoleums, urns, and statues. While precast concrete will continue to be the dominant material used in these products, the rise in cremations will cause a general decrease in demand for all cemetery products. The decline in traditional burials will have a strong impact on demand for vaults, which are among the most expensive aspects of burials. While increased cremations will support demand for precast concrete urns, these represent a small share of the total cemetery products market.
The Cremation Association believes we are nearing peak cremation, meaning that the drop in traditional burials should slow at some point. In the meantime though, demand for cemetery products will continue to fall, serving as a drag on growth in the otherwise healthy precast concrete industry.
To Learn More
For more information about the US precast concrete industry, check out Precast Concrete Products in the US, 4th edition, a new study from The Freedonia Group.
About the Author:
Nick Cunningham is an Industry Analyst at the Freedonia Group where he covers the US and global construction and building products industries.