Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 21 No. 4 (Fall 2007)


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Markets: Preserving Funeral Markets with Ready-to-Embalm Laws

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Harrington, David E. 2007. "Markets: Preserving Funeral Markets with Ready-to-Embalm Laws." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(4): 201-216.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.21.4.201


Thirty-nine states currently have ready-to-embalm laws, which typically require that all firms selling any type of funeral service (even those specializing in cremations) have embalming preparation rooms and all funeral directors be trained as embalmers. Ready-to-embalm laws are designed to preserve the status-quo in funeral markets, thereby protecting currently licensed funeral directors from the ravages of competition. These laws attempt to preserve funeral markets as they existed in the mid-twentieth century, markets that centered on traditional funerals sold by small, full-service funeral homes. The economic chemicals needed to preserve the status quo are harsh, leading to higher funeral prices and often poorer-quality services. The empirical evidence suggests that these laws reduce the cremation rate, the market share of Internet casket retailers, the penetration of national chains, and the number of funeral directors who are immigrants. They also appear to substantially increase the retail price of direct cremations and the cost of traditional funerals. Commissions in several states have recently recommended repealing ready-to-embalm laws, arguing that they are anticompetitive. The evidence presented in this paper should make their recommendations harder to ignore.

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Harrington, David E.


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