Decline in desire for funerals, study reveals

Less than half of individuals in the UK express a desire for a traditional funeral upon their passing, according to a study conducted by Theos, a religious think tank.

The findings have raised concerns, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev Justin Welby, warning that society is losing its ability to “cope with loss.”  The study, which surveyed over 2,500 people and reported in The Times, discovered that 47% of respondents wished for some form of funeral service or ceremony, while the remaining majority either did not want one or were uncertain, with 24% explicitly declining and 28% undecided.

Financial pressures and a decline in religious affiliation were identified as key factors contributing to this shift in funeral preferences, with a growing number of Britons opting for “direct cremation” without a formal funeral service. Notably, 76% of individuals who attend a place of worship regularly expressed a desire for a funeral, compared to 38% of those who never attend religious services.

Financial constraints were cited by only 13% of those who did not want a funeral. Instead, 67% believed their money could be put to better use, and 55% simply saw no purpose in a traditional funeral. Archbishop Welby, who penned a foreword to the report, expressed shock at these findings, emphasising the need to address the changing perceptions of death and loss in modern society.

The study also delved into the role of technology in dealing with grief, revealing that only 1% of respondents would seek comfort or counselling from AI-powered machines or “griefbots” after a bereavement. This figure slightly increased to 2% among individuals under the age of 44. Welby cautioned that the report hints at a future where death becomes a taboo subject, and grief may be managed with the assistance of technology, referring to it as a potential “future of griefbots.”

While 25% of people admitted to thinking about their own death at least once a week, a surprising 10 percent revealed that they never contemplate it. The authors of the report, Madeleine Pennington and Nathan Mladin, pointed out that death has become more concealed and private, occurring behind closed doors, in contrast to the past when people often gathered at the deathbed of a loved one during their final moments. They noted that if funerals were one of the few occasions where death was openly and collectively acknowledged in modern Britain, they are now becoming less common as well.

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