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Less than half of us now want a funeral, says research

Less than half of us now want a funeral, says research

Press Release to Theos’ new report ‘Love, Grief and Hope: Emotional responses to death and dying in the UK’. 24/11/2023

High costs and loss of faith lead to radical change in the ways we mark death 

Less than half of the UK population now want their death to be marked with a funeral, according to a major research report called Love, Grief, and Hope: Emotional responses to death and dying in the UK, released on Tuesday 28 November by the religion and society think tank Theos. 

The findings are based on polling commissioned from YouGov, and reveal significant changes in the ways that people in the UK are approaching death and dying. Less than half of respondents (47%) said they wanted a funeral.  Just over one in 10 (13%) of respondents who did not want a funeral said this was because they did not have enough money saved, but far more said they felt the money could be better spent another way (67%). Others said “I don’t see the point” (55%) or “I don’t want a traditional service” (43%). 

Existing polling from Sunlife indicates that direct cremation (or ‘take–away funerals’ where the body is taken directly to a crematorium without any service or other event) is now chosen for 18% of all deaths. This new polling by Theos suggests that this trend could grow further, translating into a potential crisis for the funeral industry as a whole.  

The researchers found that financial factors are significant in these decisions, but religious and spiritual adherence is even more influential: 76% of frequent worshippers said they wanted a funeral compared to 38% who never attend. Author Dr Madeleine Pennington, head of research at Theos, said: “It appears that the UK population no longer has a shared conviction on the importance of ritual frameworks to say goodbye. Market forces have a bigger impact on how we grieve, when we no longer approach grief itself through a ‘transcendent’ frame. In an age of declining formal religious affiliation, this is driving a significant realignment of British bereavement practices.” 

Dr Pennington says that a lack of familiarity with death and dying also has an impact on the ways we experience loss. “As a consequence of the professionalisation and medicalisation of death, bereavement is often now experienced almost entirely as the loss of a relationship, without direct exposure to death or the process of dying itself. Far more than in previous generations, we are likely to face the unvarnished realities of death for the first time only when losing those closest to us.” 

“This is such an important report for our time,” says Archbishop Justin Welby in his foreword to the report. “It is shocking to discover that death may be seen as expensive, time–consuming and irrelevant, and that it is better just to move on.” He calls for the Church to re–offer its “honed compassionate skills.” “We must re–open conversations, name Death, and think about how this compassionate caring can be re–shaped for this new world.” The Archbishop reflects on his response to the loss of his own mother, who died in July of this year, and calls on the Church to “re–open conversations about death”.  

Love, Grief, and Hope: Emotional responses to death and dying in the UK is part of a suite of resources from Theos on death and dying. It also includes findings about how well–prepared people feel for their own for death, and how they want their passing to be marked. The report was written by Dr Madeleine Pennington with Dr Nathan Mladin, senior researcher at Theos. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2569 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th – 21st July 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).” 

For further information, images and interviews, or to receive a full copy of the report please contact Andrew Graystone via or 07772 710090. 


Theos is a Westminster–based think tank researching and resourcing the interface between religion and society.   

The report’s co–author Dr Madeleine Pennington will answer questions in an online news briefing hosted by the Religion Media Centre at 12noon on Tuesday, 28 November. To receive a link to join the conference please write to


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