Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Domestic Integration and Suicide in 21 Nations, 1950-1985

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

Domestic Integration and Suicide in 21 Nations, 1950-1985

Article excerpt

Durkheim (1897), in his seminal sociological theory of suicide, argued that two broad social characteristics affected the social suicide rate: the degree of social integration (that is, the degree to which people are bound together in social networks) and the degree of social regulation (that is, the degree to which people have their desires and emotions controlled by social norms).

In particular, Durkheim hypothesized that marriage and children increased social integration and, therefore, societies with higher marriage and birth rates should have lower suicide rates. Durkheim also hypothesized that divorce decreased social integration and that, therefore, societies with higher divorce rates should have higher suicide rates.

There have been several studies which have tested these ideas. For example, in cross-sectional studies, Stack (1980a) found that the proportion of divorced persons in the states of America in 1970 was associated with the suicide rate, and Stack (1980b) found that the birth rate was associated with the suicide rate over 45 nations of the world.

In time-series studies, Stack (1990) conducted a time-series analysis of divorce rates and suicide rates in Denmark from 1951 to 1980 and concluded that divorce rates were associated with suicide rates in Denmark, and Wasserman (1984) found a similar association for the United States. Similarly, Yang et al. (1992) found that divorce rates were associated with higher suicide rates in both the USA and Taiwan from 1952 to 1984. However, Lester and Yang (1991) found that higher divorce rates were associated with lower suicide rates in Australia from 1946 to 1984.

One problem with these isolated studies is that they use different time periods, different measures of divorce and other variables, different statistical packages and different sets of variables in the multiple regression analyses. For example, Yang et al. (1992) used the divorce rate, Lester and Yang (1991) used the ratio of divorces to marriages, while Stack (1990) used the number of divorces divided by the numbers of divorces plus marriages.

It would be of great interest to use standardized time periods, sets of variables, and statistical techniques to examine the reliability of the associations between suicide rates and domestic integration over time in nations of the world. The present study was designed to do this for a set of twenty-one nations for which data could be obtained. In addition, a search was made for social characteristics which might account for the variation in the results of the regressional analyses.


Suicide Rates

Data on suicide rates from 1950 to 1985 were obtained from the World Health Organization (annual) for twenty-one nations. However, some of the nations in the sample had missing data for one or more years. The author obtained data for the missing years by writing to suicidologists in those nations to obtain xeroxed copies of official government tables of suicide rates. In this way, complete data were obtained for twenty-one nations.

Choice of Independent Variables

Choice of the independent variables was limited by the difficulty of obtaining 35 years of continuous data from 21 nations. Few nations can provide such long-term time-series data on social indicators. The three measures of domestic integration used were the crude marriage, divorce and birth rates, obtained from the United Nations (annual). This data set was used since it is easily obtainable by other investigators wishing to replicate the present study and because use of a single data source ensures some standardization of the data.

It would be better to use rates of marriage, birth and divorce standardized for gender and age, but such data sets were not available for the majority of the nations included in this study. It would also be of interest to explore the role of other social variables, such as unemployment and the proportion of children and elderly in the society. …

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