Suicide and the great recession of 2007-2009: The role of economic factors in the 50 U.S. states
Phillips, J. & Nugent, C.
After several decades of decline, U.S. suicide rates have risen since 2005, a trend driven largely by increases among those aged 45–64 that began in 1999. A prominent explanation for this pattern relates to deteriorating economic conditions, especially the sharp rise in unemployment associated with the Great Recession of 2007–2009. We pool data from 1997 to 2010 on the 50 U.S. states to examine the role of economic factors in producing the recent rise in suicide rates. Unlike prior studies, we examine trends in the total suicide rate and in the rate disaggregated by sex, age group and time period and include a number of important confounding factors in a multivariate analysis. We find a strong positive association between unemployment rates and total suicide rates over time within states. The association appears stronger in states that had higher female labor force participation rates over the period, suggesting that the Great Recession may generate greater levels of anomie in this context. Once we consider contextual factors such as female labor force participation, we find that rising unemployment had a similar adverse effect on male and female suicide rates. A positive effect of unemployment on temporal variation in middle-aged suicide exists but not for other age groups. Other economic characteristics, such as percent of manufacturing jobs and per capita income, are not associated with temporal variation in suicide rates within states but are associated with variation between states in suicide rates. The findings suggest that the following may be important components of effective prevention strategies: 1) specifically targeting employers and workplaces as important stakeholders in the prevention of suicide, 2) disseminating information about health risks tied to un/employment, and 3) linking the unemployed to mental health resources.