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Dark contrasts: The paradox of high rates of suicide in happy places

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Author Info

  • Daly, Mary C.
  • Oswald, Andrew J.
  • Wilson, Daniel
  • Wu, Stephen

Abstract

Suicide kills more Americans each year than die in motor accidents. Yet its causes remain poorly understood. We suggest in this paper that the level of others’ happiness may be a risk factor for suicide (although one's own happiness likely protects one from suicide). Using U.S. and international data, the paper provides evidence for a paradox: the happiest places tend to have the highest suicide rates. The analysis appears to be the first published study to be able to combine rich individual-level data sets—one on life satisfaction in a newly available random sample of 1.3 million Americans and another on suicide decisions among an independent random sample of about 1 million Americans—to establish this dark-contrasts paradox in a consistent way across U.S. states. The study also replicates the finding for the Western industrialized nations. The paradox, which holds individual characteristics constant, is not an artifact of population composition or confounding factors (or of the ecological fallacy). We conclude with a discussion of the possible role of relative comparisons of utility.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Volume (Year): 80 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
Pages: 435-442

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:80:y:2011:i:3:p:435-442

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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jebo

Related research

Keywords: Happiness; Well-being; Suicide; Relative comparisons;

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References

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  1. Stutzer, Alois, 2004. "The role of income aspirations in individual happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 89-109, May.
  2. Andrew Clark, 2001. "Unemployment As A Social Norm: Psychological Evidence from Panel Data," DELTA Working Papers 2001-17, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  3. John F. Helliwell, 2004. "Well-Being and Social Capital: Does Suicide Pose a Puzzle?," NBER Working Papers 10896, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2008. "Is well-being U-shaped over the life cycle?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(8), pages 1733-1749, April.
  5. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald & Bert Van Landeghem, 2008. "Imitative Obesity and Relative Utility," NBER Working Papers 14337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Platt, Stephen & Micciolo, Rocco & Tansella, Michele, 1992. "Suicide and unemployment in Italy: Description, analysis and interpretation of recent trends," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 34(11), pages 1191-1201, June.
  7. Blanchflower, David G. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2007. "Hypertension and Happiness across Nations," IZA Discussion Papers 2633, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. Mary C. Daly & Daniel J. Wilson, 2009. "Happiness, Unhappiness, and Suicide: An Empirical Assessment," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 7(2-3), pages 539-549, 04-05.
  9. Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 10667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Oswald, Andrew J. & Wu, Stephen, 2010. "Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-being: Evidence from the USA," IZA Discussion Papers 4695, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Becker, Sascha O. & Woessmann, Ludger, 2011. "Knocking on Heaven's Door? Protestantism and Suicide," IZA Discussion Papers 5773, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Verena Dill & Uwe Jirjahn & Georgi Tsertvadze, 2011. "Residential Segregation and Immigrants' Satisfaction with the Neighborhood in Germany," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 410, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).

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