In the Journal of Economic Psychology, Korean economist Yong-Hwan Noh of Seoul Women’s University examines the relationship between joblessness and suicide rates in 24 nations over 22 years. Examining data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development covering the years 1980 to 2002, he compared suicide rates with a variety of socioeconomic indicators.
After controlling for a number of variables, including the size of expenditures for the unemployed and the level of alcohol consumption, Noh discovered that “unemployment does significantly affect suicide rates, but in a way that varies for income: In a positive manner for high-income countries, but in a negative manner for low-income countries.”
“If everybody is poor, losing a job for a while is not as much of a stigma as losing a job where everybody else is very successful,” he writes. “This seems to fit the results of the happiness literature, where happiness is affected more by one’s sense of relative income than by absolute income.”
Among Noh’s other findings:
• The suicide rate for men was, on average, 3.14 times higher than that for women. The male suicide rate was higher than the female rate in all of the 24 countries he examined.
• Finland and Austria had the highest suicide rates of the nations he looked at, while such southern European nations as Greece, Spain and Italy had comparatively low rates.
• The suicide rate spiked dramatically in Ireland and Korea during the period he examined. Both nations experienced major economic growth during that time frame. Noh notes that, in general, “higher income is associated with higher suicide rates.”
Noh also found a link between higher suicide rates and nations with a) a larger elderly population, and b) a higher percentage of women in the work force. Taken together, these results suggest mental health professionals in the U.S. need to be particularly vigilant as the unemployment rate increases.
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