Suicide rates among the Baby Boomers

Suicide rates have long been of interest to sociologists, beginning with Emile Durkheim’s Suicide. The general argument from sociologists: suicide rates are reflective of broader social forces.

Recent research by two sociologists shows suicide rates among the baby boomers rose around the turn of the millennium. Here are some of the findings:

  • There was a substantial increase in the suicide rate for men (50-59) and women (40-59) between 1999 and 2005.  For men aged 40 to 49, the increase began about a decade earlier, in the late 1980s.
  • Increases in middle-aged suicide rates were typically greater among those who were unmarried.
  • The rise in suicide was particularly dramatic for people without college degrees, with increases near 30 percent.
  • People with college degrees seem to have escaped the trend.

Traditionally, U.S. suicide rates rise in adolescence and again in old age. They stabilize  in maturity and middle age, a time when people are invested in their families and work. For men in particular, suicide rates rise again in old age, when children are grown, illness is more frequent and spouses and contemporaries start to die.

The sociologists speculate that economic pressures played a role in these rising rates.

Based on findings like these, can we expect that the economic troubles of the last few years also led to higher suicide rates?

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