Death Becomes Her: More Women Enter Once Male-Dominated Funeral Service Industry

By Carrie Jung
Published: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 8:31am
Updated: Friday, July 1, 2016 - 1:03pm
(Photo by Sky Schaudt - KJZZ)
A casket is prepared before a viewing at a funeral home.

The funeral service industry is becoming more diverse. Among the most significant shifts? More women are entering this once male-dominated field.

If you walk into Hansen Mortuary in Phoenix you’ll likely run into one of several women, including embalmer and licensed funeral director Rachael Brown.

"Even with the cemetery, we have five men and close to 30 women with everybody that helps us out," said Brown.

Mortuary co-owner Trish Hansen-Kerr said this ratio wasn’t intentional. But she added that it does reflect how the industry has changed in the last 40 years.

"I went to mortuary school 30 years ago and probably there were only a handful of us in the class of 100," explained Hansen-Kerr. "Now there are more women."

A lot more actually. In 2000, the number of women entering mortuary school surpassed men and today that breakdown is about 63 percent women.

"I think realistically there’s a general societal attitude that the gender boundaries aren’t like they were in the 60s," said Robert Smith, the executive director of the American Board of Funeral Service Education. "Women are in all kinds of careers."

As for Hansen Mortuary’s Rachael Brown, this career is simply a natural extension of traditional gender roles. "We are the caretakers and that’s been our role in society," she said. "And it just continues to transcend this field."

But it’s more than just gender. The funeral service industry has also become more diverse when it comes to age. 

According to the American Board of Funeral Service Education, mortuary schools are seeing more people enter the profession after spending time in another career. Racial diversity though has stayed relatively constant. The organization estimates that in 2015 mortuary school student bodies across the country were roughly 62 percent Caucasian, about 9 percent Hispanic and 24 percent African American.

Read More From The Business Of Dying Series:

Part 1: How Maricopa County Is Planning To Attract More Medical Examiners In Face Of Shortage
Part 2: Arizonans Overwhelmingly Choose Cremation Over Traditional Burial
Part 3: Death Becomes Her: More Women Enter Once Male-Dominated Funeral Service Industry
Part 4: Laid To Rest: A Dignified Farewell For The Poor And Unclaimed In Maricopa County
Part 5: Organ Transplant Surgery: How Death Can Sometimes Mean New Life

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