The Funeral Industry in the United Kingdom

Brian Parsons. Handbook of Death and Dying. Editor: Clifton D Bryant. Volume 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2003.

An overview of funerals and funeral directing in the United Kingdom at the start of the 21st century reveals two factors: (a) Cremation is the preferred mode of disposal, and (b) most funerals are managed by independently owned funeral-directing firms. A closer examination, however, indicates that the disposal management system has been evolving over the last 100 years, not only through the decline in burial but more recently from the funeral reform movement in addition to structural changes within the funeral industry. Comprising two interrelated sections within a time frame of the last 100 years, this chapter begins by examining the changing context of funerals in the United Kingdom and goes on to survey developments within the funeral industry.

Many writers see World War I (1914-18) as the watershed in the departure from elaborate and socially pretentious funeral rituals that characterized the 19th century (Morley 1971). More recently, however, Jalland (1999) and Hockey (2001) point to the ongoing process of reassessment. Clearly, it can be seen that a combination of factors have influenced funeral ritual, and this change during the 20th century can be attributed to a number of developments that have their origins in the previous century. It is therefore appropriate to examine briefly three interrelated 19th-century developments.

The Changing Context of Death in the United Kingdom

Victorian England was a period of immense social and economic change. Although factors influencing mortality, such as diet, living standards, and public health, improved significantly in the latter part of the century (Jalland 1999:248), changes in religious belief were also occurring, particularly through the decline in Christian faith (see Cannadine 1981). From the perspective of the disposal of the dead, three important aspects can be identified: the introduction of a standardized system for the registration of deaths, the establishment of the private cemetery, and interest in cremation.

The civil registration service replaced the incomplete system maintained by the Church of England for recording the occurrence of birth and death. The Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1836 (with weaknesses addressed in 1874) introduced the Office of Registrar and a standardized system for the medical certification of deaths (Brodrick 1971:8-9). In addition, the responsibilities of the coroner for investigating death increased with the enactment of the Coroners Act in 1887, which consolidated the law and increased powers by conferring the right on this official to investigate all sudden and unexplained deaths.

The second area was change in the place of burial. Historically, the Church of England had been the provider of burial space. With the migration from the countryside to towns and cities and the corresponding demand placed on urban churchyards, many burial grounds had become crowded and unhygienic (Rugg 1997). Although a few cemeteries had opened to provide burial space for dissenters, such as Bunhill Fields in London, monopoly on burial provision was severed in 1820 with the opening of Rusholme Road Proprietary Cemetery in Manchester; London had to wait another 10 years before the General Cemetery Company established its cemetery at Kensal Green (Curl 2000, 2001). These private joint stock companies provided purchased graves with relaxed memorial restrictions in often spacious, nondenominational secure surroundings. Following the Metropolitan Interment Act in 1852, which closed urban churchyards, proprietary cemeteries together with those opened by the burial boards—later, municipal authorities—provided a solution for hygienic disposal that was replicated throughout England.

Third, the origins of cremation can be traced to the latter part of the 19th century (Leaney 1989; Jupp 1990). Cremation was held to be illegal until the trial of Dr. William Price in, 1884 when it was ruled that a crime would not be committed provided no nuisance was caused. The first legal cremation in this country was in March 1885 at Woking Crematorium in Surrey established by a charity, the Cremation Society of England. Initial progress, however, was slow. Despite this, 14 crematoria were built by 1914. The Cremation Act of 1902 provided a medico-legal framework to prevent undetected crime before cremation, although in the same year, only 0.2% of the deaths in England and Wales were cremations.

These developments provide an important background against which change in funeral performance during the 20th century can be viewed. In the following section, three areas are discussed: attitudes toward death and social change, the development of cremation, and funeral reform.

Death in the United Kingdom in the 20th Century: Attitudes and Social Change

The impact of World War I on funeral ritual brought to a close the last remaining vestiges of the Victorian traditions. In respect to mourning wear, Taylor (1983) states,

As the war continued the survivors had somehow to face up to the loss of almost a whole generation of young men and the creation of a new army—this one of widows and fatherless children … Full ritual mourning dress seems not to have been worn down to the last detail. It was partly a question of morale, both for troops on leave from the trenches and the public at large remaining at home. (P. 267)

And with bodies mutilated beyond recognition, unidentified, or never found, participation in traditional funeral ritual was deemed inappropriate. The end of the war signaled no return to Victorian mourning customs as new modes of expression representing collective responses to grief emerged in the decade following 1918. These were, first, the unveiling of the cenotaph in London together with war memorials all over the country coupled with the instigation of the two minutes’ silence on Armistice Day on November 11, and second, the funeral of the Unknown Warrior. But the immediate postwar years were also marked at an individual level by an increasing interest in spiritualism. As a private denial of death, spiritualism presented the bereaved with an opportunity for contact with the dead.

The interwar years gradually saw the place of death shift from the family home to the hospital as a result of improvements in health care and also following the 1942 Beveridge Report on welfare and finally the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. Further institutionalization has come through increasing longevity, the provision of palliative care, and the growth of nursing homes and hospices. This change ended the community-initiated function of a neighborhood’s laying-out woman attending to wash and dress the deceased (Adams 1993). Relatives, friends, and neighbors would then call to view the body and to express their condolences. Increasingly, the body was not taken home from the hospital but to the funeral director’s mortuary where chapels of rest were provided for viewing. In rural communities, a similar transition occurred but at a lesser pace (see Clark 1982).

This change in the place of death—and literally the separation of the living from the dead—has unquestionably had an impact on funeral ritual and has led to Gorer’s (1955) influential thesis arguing that death was now taboo much in the same way that sex was in the Victorian period. Although Gorer has been criticized for overgeneralizing, he was writing at a time when death was no longer an everyday experience in the community and was becoming largely something that happened only to the elderly.

Cremation in the United Kingdom

Although the interwar years (1918-39) witnessed a growth in crematoria building in England not matched in proportion by the number of cremations, increase in the postwar years meant that the demand could be met (Jupp 1997:147. With 54 crematoria operating by 1939, only 3.7% of deaths were cremations; 20 years later, that figure had reached 33.3% at the 131 crematoria before the percentage of burial was finally exceeded in 1967. Table 1 details the increase in crematoria and cremations in the United Kingdom. Against the background of changing social, religious, and family contexts, Jupp (1990:23) identifies a number of “triggers” for this shift: (a) the familiarity of mass and violent deaths during both world wars, resulting in new conventions in funeral ritual; (b) the erosion of a sense of community, resulting in less need for funerals to be a display; (c) economic advantage for local authorities because land could be used for housing, not for cemeteries; and (d) change in attitudes by clergy and the medical profession.

Like the cemeteries of the 19th century, crematoria provide not only the place of disposal but also the place of religious ceremony prior to committal. Increasingly, funeral services have taken place solely in the nondenominational crematorium chapel instead of in the church, reflecting the decline in religious beliefs in addition to the convenience factor for the mourners. The shift from care of the elderly at home to retirement accommodation has also influenced funeral rituals through the sale of the last residence, thereby removing an identifiable location from the community from which to commence the funeral cortege.

With a total of 437,609 cremations recorded at the 243 (see Table 1) crematoria operating in the United Kingdom in 2000, it would appear that the trend has leveled out at around 70% cremations. Current issues facing the burial and cremation industry are environmental pollution concerns, the need for a modernized legal framework for procedures and certification, the management of historic burial grounds, and the shortage of burial space.

Funeral Reform in the United Kingdom

Although its has already been stated that funeral reform has been occurring since the Victorian period, the latter part of the 20th century has witnessed a considerable change in the whole area of death and funerals, particularly as families attempt to reclaim the control of funerals from the complex system that manages the approximately 600,000 deaths occurring in England each year. In a manner similar to developments occurring in other countries, such as the United States (Fulton 1995), this can be attributed to a number of factors, including (a) changing attitudes toward death, (b) increasing consumer awareness concerning costs and standards, (c) the tendency to challenge convention and authority, (d) the influence of multiculturalism, (e) media interest in the funeral industry, and (f) instances of high-profile funerals. In addition, there has been an upsurge in academic interest (Walter 1993), exhibitions, conferences, and reform literature regarding funerals (Walter 1990).

Traditionally, funerals in the United Kingdom have tended to conform to a predetermined formula. Regional, cultural, and religious variations can be applied to the following account of an “average” funeral. After registering the death, the family visits the funeral director’s office to arrange the funeral. The deceased is then removed to the mortuary premises for preparation (which often includes embalming) before viewing by the family in the funeral director’s chapel of rest. On the day of the funeral, the coffin is closed and placed in the hearse, which is followed by a limousine conveying the family from their residence to the cemetery or crematorium chapel for a service. At the crematorium, the coffin is screened from view at the committal; in the case of burial, it is lowered into the grave by the funeral director’s staff. In some cases, a service is held in church prior to committal. The funeral director then returns to the family home. The majority of funerals are conducted using the rites of the Church of England, which include a reading, prayers, an address/eulogy, and the committal. Hymns and voluntaries (organ or recorded) may also be included. The interval between death and the funeral is about 5 to 7 working days.

Criticism of the death and disposal environment can be found in documents such as The Dead Citizens’ Charter (1996, 1998) issued by the National Funerals College and also in Walter (1990). Reviewing funeral ritual in the immediate postwar years until the 1980s, a number of features can be attributed to this. First, it is likely that the increasing number of cremations taking place within a limited time scale (often 30-minute intervals) has contributed to funerals being termed “conveyer belt” (Davies 1995:22); mourners move through an impersonal process at the crematorium (from car park to the service in the chapel to view the flowers and then return to the car park). Second, the use of rota clergy officiating at cremation services and for public reading times in the cemetery (McHale 1994:61) has also added to this lack of personal identity as up to seven or more services lasting less than 20 minutes each were performed by a minister on the same day with no opportunity for preservice contact or pastoral care. Third, the attitude of “getting it over with” and a tendency to leave “the arrangement…entirely in the undertaker’s hands” (Marris 1958:33) devolved responsibility to the paid professional. Fourth, in respect of very young children, historically, a tendency existed to minimize acknowledgment of the loss by giving no opportunity for a funeral to take place.

Although the process of reevaluation occurred at least 10 years prior to her death, the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, effectively established a precedent for others to participate without the risk of not “doing the right thing” and communicated to an all-age audience the opportunities to personalize the funeral ritual. Indeed, it was clear from many AIDS-related funerals taking place in the decade prior to her death (Walter 1990:146) that mourner participation could be combined with traditional rituals.

The funeral director’s involvement in this change can be viewed from both demand and supply side perspectives. First, funeral directors have responded to challenges from the social groups in which they are located, such as a Muslim, Sikh, or Afro-Caribbean community, by providing facilities for washing the body and the international repatriation services. Second, they have supplied a range of goods and services that generate additional income, such as horse-drawn hearses and American-style caskets.

The services provided by organizations involved in funeral performance, such as cemeteries and crematoria, have similarly changed. For example, an increase in the duration of service times from 30 to 45 minutes is provided where competition exists between crematoria having excess capacity. Furthermore, a number of cemeteries now provide woodland burial graves where a tree or shrub is planted above the grave rather than a stone memorial and also provide graves facing toward Mecca for Muslim burials and exclusive areas for children’s burial.

Through a combination of increased choice offered by crematoria and funeral directors encouraging discussion of options, more thought is being given to the final resting place of ashes. Figures collated by the Cremation Society of Great Britain indicate a reduction in the number of scatterings in crematoria gardens of remembrance over the period 1970 to 1998 and a corresponding increase in remains being removed from the crematoria. Options include burial in a family grave, placing in a columbarium, and scattering at home, on the river, at sea, or at a place favored by the deceased.

Although self-managed funerals are on the increase, the lack of accurate information charting their occurrence makes it impossible to comment fully on their effect on the funeral industry. Although it is unlikely that do-it-yourself funerals will totally replace the function of the funeral director, families may request the partial use of selected goods or services from the funeral director, such as coffin provision or body storage, to contribute toward self-managed funerals. Organizations such as the Natural Death Society and its publications provide information on these aspects (see Albery and Weinrich 2000; Albery et al. 2001).

The Funeral Industry in the United Kingdom

After a period of neglect, the funeral industry has experienced an emergence of interest from a number of perspectives: organizational and structural (Naylor 1989; Howarth 1996; Parsons 1997a, 1999; Monopolies and Merger Commission [MMC] 1995; Smale 1985, 1997; Gore 2000), historical (Litten 2002), and consumer oriented (Funerals 2001). This upsurge is paralleled by increasing interest shown toward other aspects of death and dying.

Historically, the funeral industry has been characterized by being family owned and run and has supplied two key requirements of the funeral: the coffin and transportation. Throughout the 20th century, however, the funeral director’s work has increased in complexity not only as a result of the change in the place of death and the increase in cremation but also because of the expansion of large organizations. The latter have developed through the centralized management of vehicles, staff, embalming facilities, coffin storage, and administration to serve branch offices where funerals are arranged, thus permitting economies of scale to be achieved. The following section of this chapter examines the changing role of the funeral director, which accounts for the structural change within the industry.

Since the emergence of the undertaking industry in the 17th century, firms have been family owned and managed (Gittings 1984; Litten 2002) with many being noncore—that is, funeral furnishing was carried out alongside other usually manual activities, such as carpentry, building, or upholstery. The undertakers provided the two main components of the funeral, the coffin and transport—the latter, particularly in urban areas, requiring the use of specialist capital-intensive resources such as horse-drawn hearses and landaulets, which were often subcontracted from a carriage master. In the interwar years, animal power was replaced by motor vehicles, a transition that was complete by the 1950s. Two important developments occurred, however, that led to increased control of the funeral and developed centralized operations: cremation and the changing place of death.

The preference toward cremation led to a change in the supplying of coffins and transportation. In the early stages of cremation, authorities required undertakers to supply coffins whose construction contrasted to the sturdy receptacles provided for burial. In confirming the rationale of cremation, the coffin came to be regarded by families as an inexpensive container for transportation. Although this could be perceived as a potential threat to income, improvements in mass production techniques and the availability of new construction materials, such as chipboard and, more recently, multi-density fiberboard, have gradually replaced the demand for handmade coffins. The combination of the increase in cremations and the replacement of horse-drawn transport by motor vehicles had further effects on the centralized management of funerals. Essentially, this gave funeral directors the opportunity to increase the quantity of work to be completed in one day, thus gaining greater usage of vehicles. With more funerals being conducted solely in the crematorium chapel without a service at a prior location, the hearse would be released as soon as the coffin had been carried into the chapel and the floral tributes off-loaded; it would then be used for (or to use the industry term, “worked-over” to) another funeral. In addition, while the cortege to the crematorium was driven at an appropriate pace, the return journey would not be so restricted, thus further reducing the time spent by the funeral director’s staff on each funeral. Whereas horse-drawn vehicles traveling to out-of-town locations restricted the undertaker to a maximum of two funerals in a day, a motor hearse owned by a firm situated near a crematorium could cope with perhaps four funerals without too much difficulty. In addition, all staff members conveyed with the funeral could be accommodated in the hearse, thus reducing the need for separate transport.

The institutionalization of death that has occurred during the 20th century has also had a significant impact on the work of the funeral director. As mentioned in the previous section, historically, care and custody of the dead has been community centered, and the family home, usually the place of death, provided the place of repose. As a result of changing neighborhood relationships and a desire for domestic privacy, both storage and viewing accommodation were increasingly provided by funeral directors because the body was not transferred home from the hospital prior to disposal. This increased level of control over the funeral (Howarth 1996) presented the funeral director with the opportunity to introduce arterial embalming. This contributed to the centralized control of funerals; one embalmer and one mortuary could serve a number of branches in an area, thus relieving the need for separate resources at each unit. Bodies could then be transferred to the branch offices without fear of decomposition, thereby reducing refrigeration and storage capacity at the head office. In giving the funeral director an opportunity to perform arterial embalming, not only was the funeral director’s control over the funeral increased, but this also assisted in fulfilling the occupational quest to claim professional status through acquisition of pseudo-medical knowledge (Howarth 1996:128; see also Parsons 1997b). Other changes signifying this desire include renaming the trade association from British Undertakers’ Association to the National Association of Funeral Directors in 1935, the establishment of a diploma qualification in 1959, and introduction of a code of practice in 1979.

The postwar years witnessed the growth of the large funeral firms, initially through the nonaggressive acquisition of competitors, and from the 1970s, with specialist organizations entering the market, culminating in a period of intense activity. Advantage was taken of the benefits of centralized workings to gain operational economies. In a service industry with high fixed costs and characteristically unpredictable demands, the opportunity existed to use surplus capacity to an optimum level through up to 40 branches being cost-effectively supplied with vehicles, staff, coffins, and administration from one operational center. Furthermore, national organizations could negotiate favorable savings for the bulk purchase of coffins. Funeral-directing firms located in urban areas such as London where the large organization already had a presence were particularly attractive because they could be integrated into existing centralized operations while disposing of surplus property and redeploying staff.

In parallel with the period of growth of the large organizations, there is evidence to indicate that the small family firm was facing two problems: succession and awareness of the changing trading environment. Despite the tradition of succession that has existed in the funeral industry, often for several generations, it would appear that siblings did not always enter the family business. Possible reasons include the social stigma attached to occupations that deal with the dead (Saunders 1991:204), the commitment of providing a 24-hour service, the responsibility of managing a small business, and increasing opportunities for intragenerational social mobility. The absence of business acumen reflects the technical nature of funeral qualifications and the lack of opportunity for those who have succeeded to family firms to broaden their commercial perspective; competitive and environmental influences such as marketing strategies or demographic change may not be acknowledged.

The three main public-limited companies that acquired businesses during the period 1980 to 1994 were the Great Southern Group, Hodgson Holdings, and Kenyon Securities. Hodgson Holdings merged with Kenyon Securities PLC in 1989 to form PFG Hodgson Kenyon International PLC to create an organization managing approximately 65,000 funerals a year—about 11% of the U.K. market. The subsequent rationalization of resources, including redundancies, enabled further opportunities for purchasing: discounts for coffins, soft furnishings, vehicles, and so on. In the autumn of 1994, the American funeral organization Service Corporation International (SCI) acquired the Great Southern Group, followed a month later by the Plantsbrook Group, resulting in a 14% market share in the United Kingdom. (The remaining 60% and 26% of the market were possessed by the independent and the cooperative sectors, respectively.) This acquisition was followed by a report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (1995:4) stating that the merger would be detrimental to the supply of funerals to bereaved families, prices would be raised excessively, ownership was not transparent, and a restricted choice for bereaved families existed in 10 areas. Concern was also highlighted that SCI now owned some crematoria in areas where their own funeral-directing outlets were concentrated. (See Parsons 1999 for a discussion on these points.) In 1988, the Canadian organization, the Loewen Group, announced its entry into the English market, although only a few acquisitions were made in ensuing years. Despite this period of activity, a number of features of the industry remains constant, the most conspicuous being the lack of a sole representative voice for the industry, an absence of regulation (funeral directors can operate without experience, qualification, or trade association membership), and a duplication in voluntary consumer codes. More recently, SCI has experienced financial difficulties, leading to a considerable scaling down of the European operation in Europe. Following a management buyout in 2002, the SCI’s U.K. division has been rebranded as Dignity Caring Funeral Service; although operating as separate entities but under the Cooperative name, the movement has condensed further. At the time of writing (April 2003), there are approximately 4,200 funeral-directing outlets in the United Kingdom conducting around 630,000 funerals each year. The average cost of a funeral is £1,517, with one-third of this figure representing payments for the crematorium, minister, and cremation certificates (Funerals 2001:47). For burial, purchase of a new grave for a local resident would be in the region of £400 to £600 (Funerals 2001:11).

Media Interest, Marketing, and Structure of the Industry

In the post-acquisition aftermath, the profile of the funeral industry has continued to evolve through three interrelated developments: media interest, marketing, and structure of the industry.

First, the intense period of acquisition activity highlighted the tension between the large organizations and the independent and family sector. In 1989, the Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) was founded to protect the interest of small organizations in contrast to the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), which has a broad membership. SAIF launched a “Campaign for Fair Funeral Practices” in 1997, echoing themes such as ownership transparency and price. Based on the perception that SCI was about to “Americanize” the English funeral market, the whole industry became the focus of the media, with numerous press articles and several television documentaries.

Second, although marketing has been of low priority for the industry because research indicates that client loyalty to a funeral director is high, it is clear that the trading environment is changing and alternative methods of attracting customers are becoming increasingly important. Three mechanisms for securing business are discussed here: pre-need, contracts, and consumer awareness. By 1995, the Office of Fair Trading estimated that 150,000 plans had been sold by providers either financially linked to funeral organizations or operating independently (Pre-paid Funeral Plans 1995:10). Although most sales are generated through recommendation, increased use of marketing techniques such as direct mail, television commercials, and links with charitable organizations can be attributed to this growth. At the time of writing, the pre-need market is solely regulated by two voluntary codes of practice.

Although relatively new, contracts between funeral directors and hospitals and the coroner have been tendered, as health care trusts and local authorities, respectively, explore ways of minimizing expenditure. Under contract, a funeral director will remove the deceased—often below the actual cost of the service—to become the first contact with the family with the potential for securing a service. The concern of the Office of Fair Trading (Funerals 2001:25) is that families may feel pressured to select the funeral director moving the deceased and be charged with the removal cost when using another funeral director.

Increasing consumer awareness of funeral directors’ services, costs, and funeral options has been generated by a combination of guides, local media articles, open days at funeral directing premises, sponsorship, educational programs, and niche advertising. In addition, telephone quotations are often an important source of business, particularly when clients have been given a list of funeral directors by a hospital. The relocation of surviving family members or the next of kin may mean that they do not possess knowledge of which firm arranged previous family funerals. Thus, when they return to an area to arrange a funeral, recommendation from those in the death management system will become increasingly important. The necessity, however, for the funeral director to maintain an ethically based relationship with those at first point of contact with the bereaved, such as hospital staff, coroner’s officers, and so on, is vital to all involved, particularly the consumer. In addition, as consumer awareness increases, there is likely to be a growing tendency for the bereaved to “shop around” when selecting a funeral director. Although price is frequently the primary deciding factor, other criteria, such as the manner in which the enquiry is handled, can also be identified as important. If finance is a predominating factor, however, past usage of an organization may not always ensure future loyalty.

Third, the structure of the industry is likely to undergo further changes although in a less dynamic manner than those occurring during the 1980s. The independent and family-owned sector of the industry continues to possess the largest market share, and there is evidence to indicate that following the period of merger and acquisition, many new businesses have opened. Saunders (1991) predicted in 1991 a 6-year cycle of “disintegration [of the large group] and reversion back to small units” (p. 205). His understanding was that this could be achieved through the following stages:

[The] … large firms absorb smaller businesses, cuts out competition; rationalises staff, services and assets; increases the cost of funerals to cope with mounting overheads; injects a greater element of impersonality; message gets around to the public that this or that small funeral director gives a much nicer funeral; future clients revert to small family business and the number of their funerals grows; more of the experienced managers, retirees and their offspring set up new small businesses to meet the demand and so drain away or draw custom from the larger groups. Result: large groups diversify to survive. (Saunders 1991:205-6)

New independent funeral businesses—many owned or staffed by the former employees of large organizations—have entered the market during the last decade and a half, particularly in urban areas such as London and Birmingham. The success of these new independent firms indicates that barriers to entry—the capital cost of establishment and the lack of reputation—have been challenged as firms have appeared to have started with a minimum of capital, basic facilities, and resources and then expanded according to growth while former employees of large organizations have capitalized on existing personal reputation in an area. Succession, however, will continue to be a recurring issue for the sector. Their attractiveness to the large organizations may be diminished by the decline in the number of available funerals, particularly in some urban areas, due to demographic dispersion and gentrification of inner-city locations, which already resulted in the closure of unprofitable small firms and branch offices owned by large organizations. Consequently a “natural monopoly” may occur for the surviving firm. It is, however, appropriate to view the situation from a broader perspective; survival for any type of funeral organization is not exclusively related to the number of funerals undertaken. Revenue generated from the supply of ancillary goods and services, such as floristry, monumental masonry, and the sale of pre-need funeral plans, will contribute toward assisting the survival of a branch or firm. In addition, an increase in the range of goods and services will assist the bereaved.

Conclusion

Changes in the U.K. funeral industry during the last century can be attributed to a number of internal and external factors. In terms of disposal, it is clear that cremation has been the most significant area of change. In addition, institutionalization of the dying, which has shifted the familiarity of death from the community to the hospital, and a tendency to use the services of paid professionals have given the funeral director increased responsibility in the management of funerals. Combined with aspects such as the introduction of embalming, the use of motor vehicles, and regulatory controls, the funeral industry has developed by pursuing the centralized management of resources, thereby controlling the high fixed costs attributable to funeral service. Problems facing the independent and family-owned funeral firm have also presented large organizations with the opportunity to expand, although the former continue to retain the largest share of the U.K. funeral market. Despite recent problems, the large organization is likely to remain a feature of the industry, although in a changing economic and social environment, its structure will continue to evolve.