Educational Statistics for Funeral Services Careers

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Over the past 40 or 50 years, there have been significant changes in the profiles of both the institutions offering funeral service education and the students studying to become funeral directors/embalmers. Who studies for a funeral service career, and how much can individuals make in this field?

Two generations ago, funeral service education was offered almost exclusively by private institutions and virtually 100 percent of the students were male and, for the most part, sons of funeral home owners. Over 90 percent of the students were Caucasian. Most programs offered a diploma or a certificate that lasted less than a year, some as little as three months.

Today, according to statistics offered by the  American Board of Funeral Service Education (ABFSE), there are approximately 6500 students enrolled in funeral service education. Approximately 2500 are new students. Approximately 90 percent of these students come from the 31 states that currently offer a program.

Today female students make up a majority (57 percent) of enrollees. White students make up approximately 66 percent of the total while African Americans are 23 percent, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Asian

Americans are up four percent, and eight percent identify themselves as from other ethnic backgrounds.

The average age of the new student has remained relatively constant over the past decade with 17-22 year-olds making up 36 percent of new students and those over 30 making up 30 percent.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wages for funeral directors were $52,210 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $38,980 and $69,680 and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,910 and the top 10 percent earned more than $92,940.

Salaries of funeral directors depend on the number of years of experience in funeral service, the number of services performed, the number of facilities operated, the area of the country, and the director’s level of formal education. Funeral directors in large cities usually earn more than their counterparts in small towns and rural areas.

According to BLS, funeral directors held about 22,000 wage-and-salary jobs in 2005, but many others were self-employed. Most of the self-employment positions are in small family-run funeral homes. BLS projects employment of funeral directors is expected to increase by 12 percent during the 2008-18 decade. As more people opt for cremation, some of the services that funeral directors provide, such as embalming, are less needed. Projected job growth reflects growth in the death care services industry overall due to the aging of the population.

Additionally, many funeral directors now offer a wider range of services—such as the creation of video tributes—to help people say goodbye to their loved ones in special ways. And several thousand jobs will be available to replace workers who leave the occupation permanently. Funeral directors are older, on average, than workers in most other occupations and are expected to retire in greater numbers over the coming decade. In addition, some funeral directors leave the profession because of the long and irregular hours. Job prospects may also be better for some mortuary science graduates who can relocate to get a job.

These employment opportunities tend to be best for workers who are willing to relocate or for those in large metropolitan areas. However, according to the American Board of Funeral Service Education, on a national basis there are generally more jobs available than there are licensed funeral directors to fill them. This availability varies from region to region and from town to town. Funeral service is a profession that most people enter only after having had positive personal experience and not as a result of reading books or watching videos.

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