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The black-white suicide paradox: Possible effects of misclassification

Listed author(s):
  • Rockett, Ian R.H.
  • Samora, Julie B.
  • Coben, Jeffrey H.
Registered author(s):

    This research addresses the paradox that the crude and age-adjusted suicide rates of United States blacks are less than half those of whites despite similar risks. Upper and lower limits for true suicide rates are estimated to assess the potential for differential suicide misclassification by race. Construction of these two rate scenarios respectively incorporate one or all of the three cause-of-death categories identified in the literature as most prone to obscure suicides: injury of undetermined intent and unintentional poisonings and drownings. The data source is the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, and the observation period is 1999-2002. We found that as in the official rates, the racial suicide gap persists within the lower and upper limit scenarios. However, there is marked shrinkage under the upper limit scenario. That scenario even generates rate crossovers for males ages 45-54 years and females ages 85 years and older. Suicide data appear relatively more deficient for black females than for black males. Racial data disparities are minimal for youth and young adults, and maximal for middle-aged males and the oldest and younger middle-aged females. Results strongly indicate greater susceptibility of medico-legal authorities to misclassify black suicides than white suicides. To demystify the racial suicide paradox, research is needed on medical histories and other biographical information that are accessible by the authorities in equivocal cases. To meet the standards of evidence-based medicine and public health, high-quality suicide data are an imperative for risk group delineation; risk factor identification; policy formulation; program planning, implementation, and evaluation; and ultimately, effective prevention.

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Social Science & Medicine.

    Volume (Year): 63 (2006)
    Issue (Month): 8 (October)
    Pages: 2165-2175

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:63:y:2006:i:8:p:2165-2175
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    1. Gordon F. De Jong & Anna B. Madamba, 2001. "A Double Disadvantage? Minority Group, Immigrant Status, and Underemployment in the United States," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 82(1), pages 117-130.
    2. Rockett, Ian R.H. & Smith, Gordon S., 1993. "Covert suicide among elderly Japanese females: Questioning unintensional drownings," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 36(11), pages 1467-1472, June.
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