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The Gender Gap in Funeral Directors: Burying Women with Ready-to-Embalm Laws?


  • Alison Cathles is at Cornell University. David E. Harrington and Kathy Krynski are at Kenyon College.


Over the last few decades, the gender composition of funeral directors in the United States has changed dramatically as women have entered this traditionally male-dominated occupation. To practise as funeral directors, women (and men) must be licensed in all but one state. The most extensive training requirements exist in the 27 states with ‘ready-to-embalm’ laws, which require funeral directors to be embalmers. Using a sample of 45,989 licensing records from 40 states, we find that 18.1 per cent of funeral directors were women in 2006. However, the proportion is significantly lower in states with ready-to-embalm laws. Our regressions imply that these laws reduce the proportion of female funeral directors by 24 per cent. More generally, we find that the number of funeral directors per capita is 17 per cent lower, on average, in states with ready-to-embalm laws.

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