The recording of demographic information on death certificates: a national survey of funeral directors

Public Health Rep. Jan-Feb 2002;117(1):37-43. doi: 10.1093/phr/117.1.37.


Objective: The authors sought to ascertain the methods used by funeral directors to determine the demographic information recorded on death certificates.

Methods: Standardized questionnaires were administered to funeral directors in five urban locations in the U.S. In addition, personnel on four Indian reservations were interviewed. Study sites were selected for diverse racial/ethnic populations and variability in recording practices; funeral homes were selected by stratified random sampling.

Results: Fifty-two percent of responding funeral directors reported receiving no formal training in death certification. Seventy-nine percent of respondents reported finding certain demographic items difficult to complete--26% first specified race as the problematic item, and 25% first specified education. The decedent's race was "sometimes" or "often" determined through personal knowledge of the family by 58% of respondents; 43% reported "sometimes" or "often" determining race by observation. Only three respondents reported that occupation was a problematic item.

Conclusions: The authors recommend that the importance of demographic data and the instructions for data collection be clarified for funeral directors, that standard data collection worksheets be developed, and that training videos be developed.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Continental Population Groups / classification*
  • Death Certificates*
  • Demography*
  • Disclosure
  • Ethnic Groups / classification*
  • Funeral Rites*
  • Healthy People Programs
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / classification
  • Information Management / education
  • Information Management / standards*
  • Information Management / statistics & numerical data
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Public Health Informatics / standards*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population