In which Countries is Cremation the most common choice?
Comparing and contrasting different countries cremation data has proved trickier than I would have thought, I have used the Cremation Society’s page on International Cremation to do a lot of the heavy lifting, however as they (quite rightly) use government and official statistics it left a lot of gaps which I have aimed to fill with less robust data.
In first place is clearly Japan: with a reported cremation rate of over 99%. It is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and is closely associated with Buddhism. As might be imagined other countries with a strong Buddhist tradition and modest level of cultural diversity are also big on cremation – South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are all in the 80-90% bracket.
The next biggest proponents are the countries clustered around the North Sea: UK, Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark. Although interestingly not Norway, which I think is due mainly to the Lutheran Church having sway of end-of-life rituals and they prefer burial. So why, might you wonder, would these countries be high users of cremation? Personally, I think it to do with the lack of religion – these countries often rank the highest for populations that would consider themselves to be secular / non-religious, and it would appear that without dogma cremation is the preferred option.
Interestingly, high percentage rates are associated with British diaspora – with countries such as New Zealand and Canada having cremation in the mid-seventies.
Two countries which have been tricky to pin down, where you might expect cremation to be high, are China and India. China, historically used burial as their main method of funeral. However, from what I can gather this is changing fast. According to available data, the national average cremation rate in China was estimated to be around 50% in 2019. And, it’s worth noting that the rate of cremation has been increasing rapidly over the past few decades. In major cities and more developed regions, such as Shanghai and Beijing, the cremation rate is even higher, often exceeding 90%.
India, another country famous for cremation, as one conjures up the scene of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges with it images of open-air cremation. Cremation holds significant cultural and religious importance in India, where it is considered a traditional and sacred practice in many communities, particularly as Hindus make up the largest proportion of the population. The cremation rate in India is estimated to be high, with various sources suggesting that it exceeds 75% or even 80%. These figures can vary by region and are subject to change over time. Other religious groups in India, such as Sikhs and Buddhists, also commonly practice cremation.
Last on my list is Switzerland: with over 80% of deceased individuals being cremated. Likely to be due to a range of reasons: sacristy of land, price, cultural diversity – still I am quite surprised by this as I had considered it to be a fairly conservative and wealthy country with strong (and obvious) links to the Vatican… still every day is a school day!