Throughout modern history, funeral directors have been overwhelmingly male. In the 1970s, almost 90% of funeral directors in the United States were men, as was the norm in many industries. However, this industry has recently made a dramatic shift. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 16.5% of its members were women. While this does not seem like a large majority, the number of women in mortuary study programs – the course of study required to be a funeral director – is rapidly growing. In 1971, only 5% of mortuary science students were women. In 1991, that number jumped to around 30%. Today, nearly 60% of all mortuary science students are women – a sign that the major demographic changes are on the horizon for the funeral industry.
Industry leaders attribute this development to a few things. First, Dr. Joseph Marsaglia – dean of students at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science – credits the changing societal attitudes of woman who work in traditional male-dominated fields. Historically, women were the typical caretakers of the dying and the dead. However, once undertaking became a profession, men took over the job. This was mainly because surgeons became the primary embalmers of dead bodies, and medicine has been another historically male-dominated industry. In more modern times, some people believed women were incapable of being funeral directors because of the “heavy lifting” that was required in order to move caskets or lift bodies. But frankly, that is just not true. According to Joseph Salandra, a funeral home owner from Pennsylvania, “[W]omen can do everything – dressing, embalming, lifting caskets, cosmetology, and, the most important thing, meeting with and comforting families.” Therefore, it is no surprise that women are on their way to dominating the industry.
Another reason the number of the women in the funeral industry has increased dramatically is because the number of funeral director positions has also increased. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has recently reported that the funeral industry is expected to grow approximately 12% in the next decade. Matt Buel – director of funeral science program at Arkansas State University – stated because “the death rate will continue to go up” and the number of future funeral directors is not rising to meet this demand, there are more vacant funeral industry positions than ever. “A lot of funeral directors literally die in their profession.”
This change also reflects the shrinking number of family-owned funeral homes. The Funeral Consumers Alliance that corporate funeral homes are dominating the industry, with the leader being Service Corporation, International owning around 12% of funeral homes in the country. This opens up a number of new positions for the increasing number of female mortuary studies students. Women rising in the ranks of a male dominated field is something very encouraging to see as a woman entering an industry with a similar male demographic. While glass ceilings may not be breaking, women are making impressive progress.