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An empirical investigation into the relationship between changes in the business cycle and the incidence of suicide

  • Michael Snipes
  • Timothy M. Cunha
  • David D. Hemley
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    Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between changes in the business cycle (as indicated by the incidence and duration of unemployment) and the incidence of suicide. Design/methodology/approach – A theoretical utility model with savings and consumption is used, while time series micro-level suicide data and probit analysis is used to empirically test the implications of the model. Findings – With declining economic activity and the corresponding increase in unemployment the propensity to commit suicide rises among men for numerable reasons. The authors hypothesize that there is a negative impact with respect to the decline in economic activity and as the intensity increases with respect to the declining business cycle, female's suicides will tend to accelerate. Research limitations/implications – One of the primary limitations of this study is the amount of control variables to which the authors had access. There are many factors that would influence an individual when determining whether or not to take their own life. Religious convictions, the presence of children, income, educational attainment, occupational attainment, pre-unemployment income, and how long one had been married or divorced (or unmarried) are all variables that could influence the likelihood of a suicide. The center of disease control (CDC) public use files, however, do not include these variables; thus, the authors were unable to control for their impact. Practical implications – The authors believe that these findings merit greater public awareness and increases in various forms of public and private support for recently unemployed individuals, being particularly attentive to the effect of higher than normal rates and durations of unemployment and the differences based on gender. These findings also establish another sound rationale for public policies to encourage the increase of personal savings during times of employment to make weathering periods of unemployment easier. Social implications – In times of increased incidence and duration of unemployment, the tendency of legislators and other public policy makers presumably would be to establish programs targeted to address the population with the highest rates of unemployment-related suicide – White males. It can be argued, however, that since the increased incidence and duration of unemployment have a greater effect on increasing the rate of suicide in women, public policies and programs targeting the specific needs and issues of those unemployed women with an increased risk of suicide would be more cost-effective, preventing or reducing those incremental suicides and mitigating their negative economic, social, and familial impacts. Originality/value – Previous studies used descriptive statistics, contingency tables, and the traditional statistical regression techniques in their empirical analysis; this study deviates from the norm by the use of probit analysis. Using the probit technique allowed the authors to focus their analysis on the probabilities of suicide with regard not just to the business cycle itself but also to the intensity of the business cycle.

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    Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal International Journal of Social Economics.

    Volume (Year): 38 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 5 (April)
    Pages: 477-491

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    Handle: RePEc:eme:ijsepp:v:38:y:2011:i:5:p:477-491
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    1. Douglas L. Miller & Marianne E. Page & Ann Huff Stevens & Mateusz Filipski, 2009. "Why Are Recessions Good for Your Health?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 122-27, May.
    2. Timothy J. Classen & Richard A. Dunn, 2012. "The effect of job loss and unemployment duration on suicide risk in the United States: a new look using mass‐layoffs and unemployment duration," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(3), pages 338-350, 03.
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