November 9, 2015

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. - For generations, funeral homes have been passed down from father to son. "Now, they are being passed on more and more from father to daughter," said Valerie Wages, president of Tom Wages Funeral Service, founded by her father.

Wages, a former teacher who decided to work in her father's funeral home, is an example of a growing trend, said Jessica Koth, public relations manager for the National Funeral Directors Association.

In the past decade, she said, surveys show that a growing percentage of their members are women. For example, the percentage of women attending mortuary science school increased from 35 per cent to 57.1 per cent from 1995 to 2010.

"When I was in mortuary school, it was about 1 per cent women," said Jacquelyn Taylor, senior scholar at the New England Institute at Mount Ida College. Taylor, a veteran of the funeral directors' profession, has seen the steady influx of women in this career.

"I was a psychology major in college," said Beth Dalton-Costello, president and co-owner of Dalton Funeral Homes on Long Island. Her grandfather had founded the business. "I was always interested in helping people, and I worked in several jobs after college" before being drawn to the family business.

"Being a funeral director is a helping profession," she said. "I enjoy it. I've been doing it more than 30 years."

Wages pointed out "it's not just daughters of funeral home directors that are coming into the business." She said nurses, former hospice workers and others have joined the profession.

"Funeral directors also become involved their community," Wages said. When she was young she said local Catholics didn't have a church in town and used the funeral home chapel for Masses until their church was built.