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More Women Are Working in Death Care

The death care industry used to be dominated by men, but in the last few decades more women have become funeral directors. Here’s why.
More Women Are Working in Death Care
Side view of attractive woman standing near building on funeral

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Over the years, some occupations and even entire industries have skewed either more male or more female. Death care has been an industry that is primarily employed by males, but that, like so many things in the industry, is changing. Here’s a closer look at why more women are entering the death care industry. 

Quick History of Women in Death Care

While many of us may envision a man when we think of a funeral director or mortician, in the early 1800s when green burial was the norm, women were at the center of death care. At that time women primarily took care of the living, and they also took care of the dead. This makes sense given that funerals took place in the family home not a funeral home at that time. 

Over 170 years ago women would:

  • Retrieve and transport the dead
  • Clean the body
  • Prepare the body for a funeral or wake

So what happened? The Civil War. It dramatically impacted how death care was handled. Embalming fluid began being used to preserve the bodies of soldiers so that they could be transported home for burial. After the war embalming continued and funerals went from being a family affair to being a service provided by a business. And in the 1800s few women were allowed in any type of business. 

In a very short amount of time death care did a 180 on women. Pre-Civil War being what is essentially the funeral director was seen as a woman’s role. But shortly after the fighting had ceased many men publicly stated they felt women were unfit to work in the death care industry at all because they weren’t as strong as men, emotionally couldn’t handle it and couldn’t understand the science of embalming. 

None of it was true, but the social norms of the day prevented women from proving the critics wrong. 

New Funeral Director Program Graduates Are Primarily Female, But They Aren’t the Majority of Funeral Directors

In 1970, just 5% of funeral director program graduates were women. By 2000 half of the graduates were female. In 2017, 65% of the students that completed a funeral director program were female. In 2023, the number is set to exceed 70%. 

The American Board of Funeral Service Education tracks data on funeral director programs and graduates across the U.S. Before programs were offered, the funeral business was largely familial. Funeral directors handed the reigns down to one of their sons once it was time for them to retire. Today, that’s still the case a lot of the time, but not all the time.

Funeral director programs have made it possible for anyone to enter the field even if they have no prior experience in death care. However, the numbers can be deceiving. Just because someone graduates from a program it doesn’t mean they are going to work in the industry as a funeral director. 

The number of women who actually work in the death care industry is much smaller than the graduation rate would suggest. It’s kind of the same concept as graduating with a college degree. The person may or may not end up in a career that’s related to their degree. 

Many women want to work in the death care industry, but the positions aren’t available. Many funeral home directors are men that inherit the business from their father. The majority of morticians are also still men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2016 even though the majority of funeral director program graduates were women, only 24% of funeral directors and morticians were female. According to Data USA that number is still largely unchanged with just 27.8% of morticians, undertakers and funeral directors being women

That’s a huge disparity between the graduation rate and working in the field, which proves change is needed so that the death care industry is more inclusive.

What’s Encouraging More Women to Work in Death Care

There are a number of reasons women have for entering the death care industry. One of the biggest reasons is that women simply don’t have as many glass ceilings today thanks to the previous few generations of women who have paved the way in the workforce. Because of that, there will likely be more women in a number of occupations that have been traditionally male. 

Genuine Interest in the Field 

Some women have a genuine interest in working in the death care industry. Death is a fascinating mystery that interests some people rather than being taboo, scary or having an ick factor. And it’s a good thing, because death care is a necessity of life. We need caring people who want to work in the industry. Today, we’ve largely gotten past the biased thinking that kept women from working in death care. 

Chance to Innovate and Change an Industry

Some women work in technology or are entrepreneurs and see the opportunity for improving and innovating the funeral industry. The growing number of female founders for businesses in the death care industry is a sign that women will have a greater influence in the industry moving forward.

Death doulas are another great example of how women are revolutionizing the death care industry. It’s a new role in the industry that could impact the type of funeral services and disposition people select. 

First-Hand Funeral Experience

There are women who become funeral directors because of a personal experience. Death care services that are exemplary as well as those that are well below sub-par can both prompt a woman or man to work in the industry. The goal is to ensure families have the best experience possible during the worst time in their lives.

A number of people, including women working in death care, have noted that the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to reevaluate their career. Doing so encouraged many people to change course with their careers and go in very different directions. 

Stable Career With Good Income

Many people choose a career for practical reasons. Within all the jobs that piqued their interest, some female funeral directors said the stability and pay were deciding factors. Death is the one sure thing in life. It also helps that the average annual salary for a funeral home director is $82,900.

Big hearted care isn’t possible without an exemplary team. Cremation.Green is proud of its diverse team of specialists who bring unique insight and experience to every funeral arrangement. Give us a call, text or email anytime you need assistance or have a question about green disposition services.

Picture of Marlaena Gonzales

Marlaena Gonzales

Funeral Director
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