Job opportunities should be good, particularly for those who
also embalm; however, mortuary science graduates may have to
relocate to find jobs.
Funeral directors are licensed by their State.
Advancement opportunities generally are best in larger funeral
Nature of the Work
Funeral practices and rites vary greatly among cultures and religions.
Although the U.S. population is diverse, funeral practices usually
share some common elements—removing the deceased to a mortuary;
preparing the remains; performing a ceremony that honors the deceased
and addresses the spiritual needs of the family; and carrying
out final disposition of the remains. Funeral directors arrange
and direct these tasks for grieving families.
Funeral directors also are called morticians or undertakers.
This career may not appeal to everyone, but those who work as
funeral directors take great pride in their ability to provide
efficient and appropriate services.
Funeral directors arrange the details and handle the logistics
of funerals. They interview the family to learn what family members
desire with regard to the nature of the funeral, the clergy members
or other persons who will officiate, and the final disposition
of the remains. Sometimes, the deceased leaves detailed instructions
for his or her own funeral. Together with the family, funeral
directors establish the location, dates, and times of wakes, memorial
services, and burials. They arrange for a hearse to carry the
body to the funeral home or mortuary. They also comfort the family
and friends of the deceased.
Funeral directors also prepare obituary notices and have them
placed in newspapers, arrange for pallbearers and clergy, schedule
the opening and closing of a grave with a representative of the
cemetery, decorate and prepare the sites of all services, and
provide transportation for the remains, mourners, and flowers
between sites. They also direct preparation and shipment of remains
for out-of-State burial.
Most funeral directors also are trained, licensed, and practicing
embalmers. Embalming is a sanitary, cosmetic, and preservative
process through which the body is prepared for interment. If more
than 24 hours elapse between death and interment, State laws usually
require that the remains be refrigerated or embalmed.
When embalming a body, funeral directors wash the body with germicidal
soap and replace the blood with embalming fluid to preserve the
tissues. They may reshape and reconstruct disfigured or maimed
bodies using materials such as clay, cotton, plaster of paris,
and wax. They also may apply cosmetics to provide a natural appearance,
dress the body and place it in a casket. Funeral directors maintain
records such as embalming reports and itemized lists of clothing
or valuables delivered with the body. In large funeral homes,
an embalming staff of two or more, plus several apprentices, may
Funeral services may take place in a home, house of worship,
or funeral home, or at the gravesite or crematory. Services may
be nonreligious, but because they often reflect the religion of
the family, funeral directors must be familiar with the funeral
and burial customs of many faiths, ethnic groups, and fraternal
organizations. For example, members of some religions seldom have
the deceased embalmed or cremated.
Burial in a casket is the most common method of disposing of
remains in this country, although entombment also occurs. Cremation,
which is the burning of the body in a special furnace, is increasingly
selected because it can be less expensive and is becoming more
appealing. Memorial services can be held anywhere, and at any
time, sometimes months later when all relatives and friends can
get together. Even when the remains are cremated, many people
still want a funeral service.
A funeral service followed by cremation need not be any different
from a funeral service followed by a burial. Usually, cremated
remains are placed in some type of permanent receptacle, or urn,
before being committed to a final resting place. The urn may be
buried, placed in an indoor or outdoor mausoleum or columbarium,
or interred in a special urn garden that many cemeteries provide
for cremated remains.
Funeral directors handle the paperwork involved with the person’s
death, such as submitting papers to State authorities so that
a formal death certificate may be issued and copies distributed
to the heirs. They may help family members apply for veterans’
burial benefits, and they notify the Social Security Administration
of the death. Also, funeral directors may apply for the transfer
of any pensions, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of
Funeral directors also work with those who want to plan their
own funerals in advance. This provides peace of mind by ensuring
that the client’s wishes will be taken care of in a way that is
satisfying to the client and to the client’s survivors.
Most funeral homes are small, family-run businesses, and the
funeral directors are either owner-operators or employees of the
operation. Funeral directors, therefore, are responsible for the
success and the profitability of their businesses. Directors keep
records of expenses, purchases, and services rendered; prepare
and send invoices for services; prepare and submit reports for
unemployment insurance; prepare Federal, State, and local tax
forms; and prepare itemized bills for customers. Funeral directors
increasingly are using computers for billing, bookkeeping, and
marketing. Some are beginning to use the Internet to communicate
with clients who are planning their funerals in advance, or to
assist them by developing electronic obituaries and guestbooks.
Directors strive to foster a cooperative spirit and friendly attitude
among employees and a compassionate demeanor toward the families.
Increasingly, funeral directors also are involved in helping individuals
adapt to changes in their lives following a death, through aftercare
services or support-group activities.
Most funeral homes have a chapel, one or more viewing rooms,
a casket-selection room, and a preparation room. Many also have
a crematory on the premises. Equipment may include a hearse, a
flower car, limousines, and sometimes an ambulance. Funeral homes
usually stock a selection of caskets and urns for families to
purchase or rent.
Funeral directors often work long, irregular hours, and the occupation
can be highly stressful. Many are on call at all hours because
they may be needed to remove remains in the middle of the night.
Shiftwork sometimes is necessary because funeral home hours include
evenings and weekends. In smaller funeral homes, working hours
vary, but in larger homes employees usually work 8 hours a day,
5 or 6 days a week.
Funeral directors occasionally come into contact with the remains
of persons who had contagious diseases, but the possibility of
infection is remote if strict health regulations are followed.
To show proper respect and consideration for the families and
the dead, funeral directors must dress appropriately. The profession
usually requires short, neat haircuts and trim beards, if any,
for men. Suits and ties for men and dresses for women are customary
for a conservative look.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Funeral directors are licensed in all States. Licensing laws
vary from State to State, but most require applicants to be 21
years old, have 2 years of formal education that includes studies
in mortuary science, serve a 1-year apprenticeship, and pass a
qualifying examination. After becoming licensed, new funeral directors
may join the staff of a funeral home. Funeral directors who embalm
must be licensed in all States, and some States license only those
who embalm. In States that have separate licensing requirements,
most people in the field obtain both licenses. Persons interested
in a career as a funeral director should contact their State licensing
board for specific requirements.
College programs in mortuary science usually last from 2 to 4
years. The American Board of Funeral Service Education accredits
about 50 mortuary science programs. A few community and junior
colleges offer 2-year programs, and a few colleges and universities
offer both 2-year and 4-year programs. Mortuary science programs
include courses in anatomy, physiology, pathology, embalming techniques,
restorative art, business management, accounting and use of computers
in funeral home management, and client services. They also include
courses in the social sciences and in legal, ethical, and regulatory
subjects such as psychology, grief counseling, oral and written
communication, funeral service law, business law, and ethics.
Many State and national associations offer continuing education
programs designed for licensed funeral directors. These programs
address issues in communications, counseling, and management.
More than 30 States have requirements that funeral directors receive
continuing education credits to maintain their licenses.
Apprenticeships must be completed under the direction of an experienced
and licensed funeral director. Depending on State regulations,
apprenticeships last from 1 to 3 years and may be served before,
during, or after mortuary school. Apprenticeships provide practical
experience in all facets of the funeral service, from embalming
to transporting remains.
State board licensing examinations vary, but they usually consist
of written and oral parts and include a demonstration of practical
skills. Persons who want to work in another State may have to
pass the examination for that State; however, some States have
reciprocity arrangements and will grant licenses to funeral directors
from another State without further examination.
High school students can start preparing for a career as a funeral
director by taking courses in biology and chemistry and participating
in public speaking or debate clubs. Part-time or summer jobs in
funeral homes consist mostly of maintenance and cleanup tasks,
such as washing and polishing limousines and hearses, but these
tasks can help students become familiar with the operation of
Important personal traits for funeral directors are composure,
tact, and the ability to communicate easily with the public. Funeral
directors also should have the desire and ability to comfort people
in a time of sorrow.
Advancement opportunities generally are best in larger funeral
homes. Funeral directors may earn promotions to higher paying
positions such as branch manager or general manager. Some directors
eventually acquire enough money and experience to establish their
own funeral home businesses.
Funeral directors held about 30,000 jobs in 2004. Twenty percent
were self-employed. Nearly all worked in the death care services
Employment opportunities for funeral directors are expected to
be good, particularly for those who also embalm. However, mortuary
science graduates may have to relocate to find jobs.
Employment of funeral directors is projected to increase more
slowly than the average for all occupations through the year 2014,
reflecting slow growth in the death care services industry, where
funeral directors are employed. The need to replace funeral directors
who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons will account
for more job openings than will employment growth. Funeral directors
are older, on average, than workers in most other occupations
and should be retiring in greater numbers between 2004 and 2014.
In addition, some funeral directors leave the profession because
of the long and irregular hours.
Median annual earnings for funeral directors were $45,960 in
May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $35,880 and $60,860.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,470 and the top 10
percent earned more than $85,910.
Salaries of funeral directors depend on the number of years of
experience in funeral service, the number of services performed,
the number of facilities operated, the area of the country, the
size of the community, and the level of formal education. Funeral
directors in large cities earn more than their counterparts in
small towns and rural areas.
The job of a funeral director requires tact, discretion, and
compassion when dealing with grieving people. Others who need
these qualities include social workers, psychologists, physicians
and surgeons, and other health practitioners involved in diagnosis
Sources of Additional Information
For a list of accredited mortuary science programs and information
on the funeral service profession, write to:
The National Funeral Directors Association, 13625 Bishop’s
Dr., Brookfield, WI 53005. Internet: http://www.nfda.org/
For information about college programs in mortuary science, scholarships,
and funeral service as a career, contact:
For information on specific State licensing requirements, contact
the State’s licensing board.
OOH ONET Codes
Suggested citation: Bureau
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition, Funeral
Directors , on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos011.htm
(visited February 01, 2006).
Last Modified Date: December 20,
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition