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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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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    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. 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.
    4. Dasgupta, P., 2016. "Birth and Death," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1660, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    5. 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.
    6. Polterovich, Victor, 2022. "Конкуренция, Сотрудничество И Удовлетворенность Жизнью. Часть 2. Основа Лидерства – Коллаборативные Преимущества [Competition, Collaboration, and Life Satisfaction Part 2. The Fundament of Leadersh," MPRA Paper 113053, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. 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.
    8. Lien, Donald & Zhang, Shuo, 2020. "Words matter life: The effect of language on suicide behavior," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 86(C).
    9. Philip M. Pendergast & Tim Wadsworth & Charis E. Kubrin, 2019. "Suicide in Happy Places: Is There Really a Paradox?," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 20(1), pages 81-99, January.
    10. Becker, Sascha O. & Woessmann, Ludger, 2011. "Knocking on Heaven’s Door? Protestantism and Suicide," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 966, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    11. Khalil, Elias L. & Aimone, Jason A. & Houser, Daniel & Wang, Siyu & Martinez, Deborah & Qian, Kun, 2021. "The aspirational income hypothesis: On the limits of the relative income hypothesis," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 182(C), pages 229-247.
    12. David G. Blanchflower & Carol L. Graham, 2022. "The Mid-Life Dip in Well-Being: a Critique," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 161(1), pages 287-344, May.
    13. David N. F. Bell & David G. Blanchflower, 2021. "The U‐shape of happiness in Scotland," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 68(4), pages 407-433, September.
    14. 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).
    15. 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.
    16. Mohsen Joshanloo & Veljko Jovanović & Tim Taylor, 2019. "A multidimensional understanding of prosperity and well-being at country level: Data-driven explorations," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 14(10), pages 1-31, October.
    17. 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.
    18. Alexander Gilgur & Jose Emmanuel Ramirez-Marquez, 2020. "Using Deductive Reasoning to Identify Unhappy Communities," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 152(2), pages 581-605, November.
    19. Joël Berger & Andreas Diekmann, 2015. "The Logic of Relative Frustration: Boudon’s Competition Model and Experimental Evidence," ETH Zurich Sociology Working Papers 10, ETH Zurich, Chair of Sociology.
    20. Christian Breuer & Horst Rottmann, 2014. "Do Labor Market Institutions Influence Suicide Mortality? An International Panel Data Analysis," CESifo Working Paper Series 4875, CESifo.
    21. Rambotti, Simone, 2020. "Is there a relationship between welfare-state policies and suicide rates? Evidence from the U.S. states, 2000–2015," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 246(C).
    22. David G. Blanchflower & Carol L. Graham, 2020. "The Mid-Life Dip in Well-Being: Economists (Who Find It) Versus Psychologists (Who Don't)!," NBER Working Papers 26888, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    23. Pickett, Kate E. & Wilkinson, Richard G., 2015. "Income inequality and health: A causal review," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 316-326.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Happiness; Well-being; Suicide; Relative comparisons;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

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

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