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

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  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Daly, Mary C. & Oswald, Andrew J. & Wilson, Daniel & Wu, Stephen, 2011. "Dark contrasts: The paradox of high rates of suicide in happy places," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 80(3), pages 435-442.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:80:y:2011:i:3:p:435-442
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2011.04.007
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Andrew E. Clark, 2003. "Unemployment as a Social Norm: Psychological Evidence from Panel Data," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(2), pages 289-322, April.
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    7. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002.
    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. 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).
    10. John Helliwell, 2007. "Well-Being and Social Capital: Does Suicide Pose a Puzzle?," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 81(3), pages 455-496, May.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Dasgupta, P., 2016. "Birth and Death," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1660, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    2. Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2018. "Social Cohesion, Religious Beliefs, and the Effect of Protestantism on Suicide," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 100(3), pages 377-391, July.
    3. Verena Dill & Uwe Jirjahn & Georgi Tsertsvadze, 2015. "Residential Segregation and Immigrants’ Satisfaction with the Neighborhood in Germany," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 96(2), pages 354-368, June.
    4. repec:eme:ijsepp:ijse-06-2016-0153 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Edward L. Glaeser & Joshua D. Gottlieb & Oren Ziv, 2016. "Unhappy Cities," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(S2), pages 129-182.
    6. Sascha Becker & Ludger Wößmann, 2011. "Knocking on Heaven's Door? Protestantism and Suicide," CESifo Working Paper Series 3499, CESifo Group Munich.
    7. Pickett, Kate E. & Wilkinson, Richard G., 2015. "Income inequality and health: A causal review," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 316-326.
    8. Nadia Campaniello & Theodoros M. Diasakos & Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2017. "Rationalizable Suicides: Evidence from Changes in Inmates’ Expected Length of Sentence," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 388-428.
    9. Marko Korhonen & Mikko Puhakka & Matti Viren, 2016. "Economic hardship and suicide mortality in Finland, 1875–2010," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 17(2), pages 129-137, March.
    10. Christian Breuer & Horst Rottmann, 2014. "Do Labor Market Institutions Influence Suicide Mortality? An International Panel Data Analysis," CESifo Working Paper Series 4875, CESifo Group Munich.
    11. Chuluun, Tuugi & Graham, Carol, 2016. "Local happiness and firm behavior: Do firms in happy places invest more?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 41-56.
    12. Rottmann, Horst, 2014. "Do unemployment benefits and employment protection influence suicide mortality? An international panel data analysis," Weidener Diskussionspapiere 42, University of Applied Sciences Amberg-Weiden (OTH).
    13. Marko Korhonen & Mikko Puhakka & Matti Viren, 2017. "Economic hardship and suicides," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 44(10), pages 1348-1360, October.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Happiness; Well-being; Suicide; Relative comparisons;

    JEL classification:

    • I - Health, Education, and Welfare
    • J - Labor and Demographic Economics

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