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Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide

  • David M. Cutler
  • Edward Glaeser
  • Karen Norberg

Suicide rates among youths aged 15-24 have tripled in the past half-century, even as rates for adults and the elderly have declined. And for every youth suicide completion, there are nearly 400 suicide attempts. This paper examines the dynamics of youth suicide attempts and completions, and reaches three conclusions. First, we suggest that many suicide attempts by youths can be viewed as a strategic action on the part of the youth to resolve conflicts within oneself or with others. Youths have little direct economic or familial power, and in such a situation, self-injury can be used to signal distress or to encourage a response by others. Second, we present evidence for contagion effects. Youths who have a friend or family member who attempts or commits suicide are more likely to attempt or commit suicide themselves. Finally, we show that to the extent we can explain the rise in youth suicide over time, the most important explanatory variable is the increased share of youths living in homes with a divorced parent. The divorce rate is more important for suicides than either the share of children living with step-parents or the share of female-headed households.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7713.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7713.

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Date of creation: May 2000
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Publication status: published as Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide , David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser, Karen E. Norberg. in Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis , Gruber. 2001
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7713
Note: CH HE
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  1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 1995. "Crime and Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 5026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Blanchflower, D.G. & Oswald, A.J., 1998. "The Rising Well-Being of the Young," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 519, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  3. Hamermesh, Daniel S & Soss, Neal M, 1974. "An Economic Theory of Suicide," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(1), pages 83-98, Jan.-Feb..
  4. Edward L. Glaeser & Spence Glendon, 1998. "Who Owns Guns? Criminals, Victims and the Culture of Violence," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1822, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
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