It's tough times in the funeral business. Newsweek magazine reports one international funeral home chain providing 4 percent fewer services last year. Are we really dying less? Well, yes, we are. But consumers also may be spending less and opting for less traditional services.

The magazine reports there has been a decline in the nation's death rate over the past six to eight years. It comes at a time when the nation is aging. The national center for health statistics says the death rate fell from 8.8 per 1,000 in 1999 to 8.5 in 2005. Fewer people died in 2005 than in 2002 despite an increase population.

Cremations also are cutting into some traditional profit lines. They tend to be cheaper and no cemetery plot is required. Casket sales at one major manufacturer were flat for the first nine months of 2007 compared to 2006. Religions like the Roman Catholic Church now say cremated remains can be present at a Catholic funeral Mass.

In the Bible Belt, casket funerals remain the norm. Nationally, about a third of all services are cremation. But in the South, some states' rates fall below 10 percent. A trade industry group estimates the rate will rise to nearly 40 percent by 2010.

But weep not for the traditional funeral home business. The nation's death rate will eventually catch up. The magazine says the U.S. death rate is expected to rise to 8.9 per 1,000 in 2010 and 9.3 per 1,000 in 2020.

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