The 10 Companies That Control the Death Industry


Dying in America is expensive. The average cost of a funeral, from the flowers to the plot, has grown to $9,000. With almost 1.8 million buried every year, that amounts to a $15 billion-a-year business.

The death industry, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries, is a tale of two economies. Most of the 19,500 funeral homes in America are small operations, passed down through families over the generations. But a few large companies, many of them publicly traded (including Wal-Mart and Amazon), control the business. Those are the firms that we studied in this analysis of the death industry.



The established death industry is under siege from two forces: cremation and the Web. First, cremation has grown in popularity, due perhaps to the rising cost of burials, public concerns about overcrowded graveyards, and personal considerations. John Ross, the executive director of the Cremations Association of North America, claims that a crematory fee is $1,400 -- a sixth the cost of an average funeral. One in three bodies are cremated, according to Bob Fells, acting CEO of the International Cemetery and Cremation Funeral Association. But he expects that number to rise to one in two by 2025. If Americans continue to move toward cremation, it could spell doom for funeral homes.

Second, death has been changed by the Internet. Wal-Mart and Amazon sell caskets online at a discount, sometimes as much as two-thirds of their retail prices. This competition drags down the price of funeral is another factor that will erode the margins of the traditional funeral industry.

Presented by

Douglas A. McIntyre and Michael B. Sauter are editors of 24/7 Wall St., a Delaware-based financial news and opinion operation that produces content for sites including MarketWatch, DailyFinance, Yahoo! Finance, and TheStreet.com.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Business

Just In