Legacy.com publishing data shows that, in some areas of the U.S., the number of obituary notices published in local newspapers during spring 2020 was sharply different than the the number published in the same time period in 2019.
The following graphs track obituary notice publication volume from January through June, 2019 vs. 2020. These numbers count all family-placed obituary notices, both paid and free, published through Legacy’s newspaper partners. (Approximately 85 percent of U.S. newspapers post their local notices on Legacy.)
This page will be updated regularly. Last update: July 7, 2020.
Boston: 38% increase in April
Last year, in 2019, the number of obituaries published in Boston followed a typical seasonal decrease as the weather warmed up in March, April, and May. This corresponds to a nationwide trend that sees more deaths during winter months and fewer deaths during summer months. But this year was very different. April 2020 abruptly showed a 38% increase year over year in the number of obituaries published, and this increase continued in May.
New York City: 85% increase in April
New York City saw an even greater increase in obituaries in spring 2020. In April, 85% more obituary notices were published in New York City newspapers than had been in April 2019.
For further comparison, here are the numbers of obituaries published in New York City newspapers over a broader time span, January through May for each year beginning in 2016:
Cities on commuter lines from New York City, such as Trenton, N.J., saw similar increases:
More reporting: Obituaries reflect the story of the pandemic
The pattern bears out in other cities that reported coronavirus outbreaks in spring 2020 as well. New Orleans saw a 48% obituary notice increase in April 2020 as compared to April 2019; Detroit saw a 28% increase; and Scranton, Pa., saw a 40% increase.
New Orleans: 48% increase in April
Detroit: 28% increase in April
Scranton: 40% increase in April
Several cities have shown a significant spike in obituary publishing numbers in June. Yuma, Ariz., showed a 34% increase in obituary notices in June 2020 compared to June 2019. Tucson, Ariz., showed a 12% increase; Tallahassee, Fla., showed a 29% increase; Brownsville, Tex., showed a 26% increase; and Salem, Ore., showed a 22% increase.
Yuma: 34% increase in June
Tucson: 12% increase in June
Tallahassee: 34% increase in June
Brownsville: 26% increase in June
Salem: 22% increase in June
Examples of cities without year-on-year obituary increases
In numerous locations such as Cleveland, Ohio, and Kansas City, Missouri, obituary rates in 2020 did not spike in the spring, but rather followed the more usual pattern of declining with the coming of warmer weather:
Notes on the data
1. In each graph, 2020 obituary rates in January and February, before the pandemic began affecting the U.S., are consistently lower than during the same months in 2019. This represents a known preexisting decrease in the average number of obituaries being submitted for newspaper print publication annually.
2. In March 2020, obituary volume declined substantially in many areas, simultaneous with the stay-at-home orders issued in states all across the nation. This reflected the fact that many families canceled or postponed funeral services due to social distancing restrictions, and for some families, obituary publication occurs as a part of their formal funeral planning process. (The majority of families, however, still published obituaries in the absence of a funeral.)
More on obituaries and the pandemic:
- Washington Post: U.S. deaths soared in early weeks of pandemic, far exceeding number attributed to covid-19
- CTV News: Canadian newspapers are publishing more death notices
- AdWeek: Remembering the dead: Obituary writers restore humanity to covid-19 crisis
- Legacy: Obituaries reflect the story of the pandemic