Academic journal article Trames

Gender and Age-Specific Dynamics of Suicides in the Baltic States during the Transition Period

Academic journal article Trames

Gender and Age-Specific Dynamics of Suicides in the Baltic States during the Transition Period

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The restoration of independence in the Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - in the early 1990s can be considered a "velvet revolution" - a social revolution without violence. By now these three states are considered ripe enough to join the European Union. Rapid development during such a short period is a great achievement, but also complicated the experience for the inhabitants. Cornia and Paniccia have characterised this development in the former socialist countries as "one of the most unexpected and unexplained population crises of this century" (Cornia and Paniccia 2000:3).

The population in Latvia and Estonia decreased in the 1990s due to both negative net migration and natural increase (natural increase declined by 1999 in Estonia and Latvia to -4.1 and -5.5 versus 2.8 and 2.2 in 1985, respectively). In Lithuania the population has been more stable but the natural increase has still become negative, falling to -1.0 by 1999, having been 5.4 in 1985 (Eesti, Lati ja Leedu. ... 1996, Eesti statistika aastaraamat 2001, Latvijas statistikas gadagr_Cmata 2000, Lietuvos statistikos metrastis 2001). The mortality crisis during transition has shown sharp age-specific and gender differences.

The curve of External Causes of Deaths (Varnik et al. 2001), as well as the curve of suicides in the Baltic states (Varnik et al. 2000) had during 1970-1984 a stable slightly upward trend. The curve became S-shaped with fall-rise-fall in the reform period since 1985. Fluctuations in the trends were more pronounced among males than females. Age and gender specifics of suicide mortality in the Baltic and Slavic republics of the former USSR was studied by Wasserman-Varnik group for the years 1984-1990 (Varnik and Wasserman 1992, Varnik et al. 1998), no follow-up was performed later.

Men's higher suicide risk is a well-known fact and as a rule suicide rates tend to grow in a steady order in respect of age. The same can be said about previous findings in the Baltic countries and the Slav republics of the former Soviet (Varnik et al. 1998). A significant age-related problem is a more rapid growth of the suicide rate in the younger age groups in comparison with the older age groups.

Aim of the study. This study examines age- and gender-specific suicide rates during the transition period, their similarities and differences in the Baltic countries. Our aim is to shed light to peculiarities considering that the reception of the reforms by different age groups depended on their different resources of social and intellectual capital.

2. Data, study period and study design

Our analysis is based on official suicide statistics collected by the statistical offices in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for 1981-1999. The validity of Soviet suicide statistics has proved to be satisfactory for carrying out research in this field (Wasserman and Varnik 1998a, Leon and Chenet 1997, Rancans et al. 2001, Kalediene 1999, Gailiene et al. 1995). During the years of independence statistical routines have been harmonized with international requirements, whereas there was no need to make major changes in the death statistics (Varnik et al. 2001).

The main variables to be analyzed include the age-specific suicide rate examined separately in the case of men and women (the number of suicides per 100,000 inhabitants of the age group considered). The standard 10-year age groups start at 15 years and end with the age group of 75 years and over. The suicide rates during the period studied are characterized according to its mean level and by the time correlation. The trend of suicide risk by the age groups and gender is also characterized graphically; the trend curves chosen by the method of least squares are added.

Ratios of suicide rates were used for comparing age groups taking one certain age group as a basis. This enables to exclude from the time trend the possible joint external effect for all age groups and better reveal the specifics of concrete age groups. …

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