Diversity is a hot topic in many industries, and the deathcare profession is no exception.
Today’s trends indicate that while women ownership and management of funeral homes is on the rise, minority-owned businesses are declining.
Women have been on the rise in the deathcare profession for quite some time, and it’s starting to show. For the last few years, there have been more women attending mortuary science schools than men.
According to an article in the New York Times, in 1976 there were 343 women and 2,210 men enrolled in funeral schools in the United States; by 2000, women edged out men 1,199 to 1,169; and in 2014, there were 1,605 women enrolled compared with 1,219 men.
A recent Fortune article stated that today almost 60% of mortuary science students are women, and that number is even higher in certain schools. The Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Services in Houston, Texas has 64% female students.
That same article shares the story of Kim Perry, a licensed funeral director who works closely with about 30 New England funeral homes. Though she started off as an oddity, now about half of the 23,000 other employees she works with at her company are female.
“Women are often more nurturing than men, and they understand the tremendous importance of details like having exactly the right flower arrangements,” Perry said in the Fortune article. “Most of the people making arrangements for loved ones are women, and they feel really comfortable talking to another woman.”
Though women may be well-equipped emotionally for the job of funeral home director or owner, many struggle to overcome the profession’s tradition of passing down funeral businesses from father to son as well as social and cultural stigmas surrounding women and deathcare.
While women are on the rise in the profession, there has been a sharp decline in the number of African American students in mortuary sciences. According to Marketplace, one survey of mortician schools said that the percentage of African American students went from 27% several years ago to just 15% in 2014. The number of Hispanic mortuary school graduates is even smaller — according to an article in the New York Times, just 5% of the 1,589 U.S. mortuary school graduates in 2012 were Hispanic.
The Marketplace article states that a large part of the decline is the fact that the demographics of many minority-dominated neighborhoods where minority-owned businesses once had a strong clientele are changing, and funeral homes struggle to keep up.
“They have had to either relocate their business to where some of their clientele has moved, or re-market their business to immigrant families,” said Suzanne Smith, a professor at George Mason University and author of To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death, in the Marketplace article.
But the outlook for minorities in the businesses isn’t all dim — there are many initiatives and organizations sprouting up to help minorities that want to enter the deathcare profession.
The National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association is the world’s largest and oldest national association of African American funeral directors, morticians, and embalmers; Minority Funeral Homes is an online magazine for morticians and funeral directors; 100 Black Women of Funeral Service encourages and supports women of color in the industry; and there are many more.
I think we are focusing on the wrong topic when it comes to women in funeral service. Women have been taking this industry by storm for many, many years–this is not “new” news. We should be looking at how many women are STAYING in funeral service. It’s no secret that the average funeral director only lasts 5 years in the business once they begin working. Women have many challenges that men do not have when it comes to this profession. More often than not, we are home base; wives, mothers, caregivers, etc. I would be very interested in seeing a study done of how many women over the years have chosen to continue their career in funeral service after being in it and seeing what the inside of the death care industry is really like.
Thanks for reaching out—that’s a great idea! We’ll do some investigating and try to cover this topic more extensively in the future.