Will the U.S. Eventually Run Out of Space for Cemeteries?

The U.S. is a large country, but actually has a low population density. However, just because land is open, doesn’t mean it is usable, and some fear that we may actually run out of space for cemeteries.  Countries such as England and others in Europe have some areas that have already run out of usable land and are now exhuming graveyards, burying coffins on top of each other, and even digging up old sites to cremate the remains.

Cremation vs Burial

Why do some people choose to be buried versus cremated? Some decisions are made from a religious viewpoint while others are a personal preference, or even a financial decision. Even countries with some religious opposition have started building multi-story underground burial tunnels to house the dead so that the living can continue residing above ground.

Burial & Cremation Costs

Burial and funeral costs have increased exponentially over the years. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial today is $7,640. If you add in a vault, it brings the cost up to $9,135. These costs have grown 6.4% to 7.4% from 5 years ago. You will also need to consider the cost of purchasing a burial plot. Plots can range anywhere from a few hundred to $4,000 on average (although Money Sense has mentioned that the most expensive plot in the U.S. is an astonishing $4.6 million at Westwood Village Park Memorial).  On the other hand, a cremation without a funeral service can cost less than $1,000 with many affordable cremation urns.

cemetery in Japan

How Many Cemeteries Are There?

Today there are 20,272 registered cemeteries in the U.S. These don’t account for hidden graveyards, pet cemeteries, or natural graves used by Native Americans. Our nation’s history shows that official cemeteries weren’t always used. Throughout the civil war, soldiers, and often slaves, were buried with stone markers, or sometimes no markers at all.  These hidden graveyards have posed issues in modern day with construction companies finding remains when preparing subdivisions or new buildings, as was the case for a Tampa apartment complex.

How Many People Have Lived Since Time Began?

This infographic by Live Science, estimates that over 108 billion people have lived in the world since the beginning of human existence. There are currently 7.8 billion people, meaning that there are an estimated 13.8 dead people to every one person still living.  It’s interesting to think that the remains and ashes of ancestors may be beneath our feet, on the very ground we live on.

However, the question remains, will we eventually run out of space (and if so, when)?

Do Some States Have Limited Cemetery Space?

We gathered data to compare metrics related to population and death rates along with available land and cemeteries to see what possibilities existed.

Here are the metrics we used:

Death Rate: As provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of deaths compared to the population in that state equals an approximate death rate.

Burial Opportunity: The number of all types of registered cemeteries by state from the Census Bureau divided by the number of deaths per year shows us how many deaths each cemetery needs to account for when determining plots and expansion or recycling. Not all cemeteries recycle plots and some may already be filled to capacity, but there was no readily available data for these metrics.

Population Density: Comparing population to land shows how sparse or dense a state’s population is.

Population Growth: Finding the difference between population growth and death rate – states that have the highest growth are ranked as more at risk of possibly not having the space for burials.

sunset over a cemetery

States Most at Risk to Run Out of Cemetery Space

These are the top ten states that will run out of cemetery space based on our metrics.

  1. California
  2. Hawaii
  3. Maryland
  4. New Jersey
  5. New York
  6. Virginia
  7. Massachusetts
  8. Georgia
  9. Washington
  10. Nevada

Below you’ll find where each state ranked for all metrics analyzed as well as their overall likeliness to run out of cemetery space.

OverallStateDeath RatePopulation DensityPopulation GrowthBurial Expectancy
1 California 4 7 20 28
2 Hawaii 6 12 29 19
3 Maryland 14 5 24 24
4 New Jersey 20 1 39 9
5 New York 15 9 47 1
6 Virginia 12 13 18 30
7 Massachusetts 22 3 22 26
8 Georgia 10 18 14 34
9 Washington 7 23 7 41
10 Nevada 11 19 5 43
11 Utah 2 28 1 47
12 Texas 5 27 2 46
13 Delaware 29 6 16 32
14 Colorado 3 33 6 42
15 Rhode Island 36 2 46 2
16 New Hampshire 18 20 26 22
17 North Carolina 24 15 12 36
18 Arizona 13 29 8 40
19 Minnesota 8 35 19 29
20 Florida 39 8 3 45
21 Michigan 92 16 38 10
22 Wisconsin 23 25 32 16
23 Indiana 33 17 28 20
24 Idaho 9 41 4 44
25 Alaska 1 50 33 15
26 Ohio 42 11 37 11
27 South Carolina 35 21 10 38
28 Pennsylvania 47 10 42 6
29 Oregon 25 32 11 37
30 New Mexico 16 44 40 8
31 Tennessee 41 22 17 31
32 Louisiana 37 26 35 13
33 Vermont 27 36 45 3
34 Wyoming 17 47 44 4
35 Kentucky 44 24 30 18
36 Missouri 40 31 31 17
37 Nebraska 26 45 21 27
38 Kansas 31 43 36 12
39 Connecticut 21 4 48 50
40 North Dakota 28 48 9 39
41 South Dakota 30 46 13 35
42 Iowa 38 40 25 23
43 Alabama 49 30 34 14
44 Illinois 19 14 49 49
45 Mississippi 46 37 43 5
46 Montana 34 49 15 33
47 Oklahoma 45 39 23 25
48 Maine 43 42 41 7
49 Arkansas 48 38 27 21
50 West Virginia 50 34 50 48

What Does This Mean for Our Future?

Today, some cemeteries rent out plots, which allows people to lease a space for up to 100 years before the grave is allowed to be recycled and reused. Many countries around the world have resorted to this process as their available land begins to fill.

Although we cannot say for certain that eventually we will run out of space, based on the metrics we were able to gather information for, some states may be more at risk of running out of available space for cemeteries. Since data is limited, and it would be impossible to check each of the 26,000+ registered cemeteries nationwide for acreage and plot space, we rely on the data available to us to guide our guestimates.

Surprised that your state is at the top of the list? Do you have stories or experiences to share with first-hand experience? We’d love to hear from you.

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