Surviving the Great Recession: Suicide and Unemployment Rates During a Downturn
AbstractIncreasing mortality rates for individuals in the later stages of their careers has been identified as a troubling trend in recent studies, e.g. Case and Deaton (2015). This paper seeks to enhance our understanding of how economic crises affect mortality, specifically suicide rates. With more than 40,000 Americans committing suicide each year, this is a significant cause of lost years of life. The Great Recession of 2007-09 resulted in substantial increases in levels of economic distress, unemployment rates, and suicide rates among certain groups.
Previous theoretical and empirical research finds that challenging economic conditions elevate suicide rates (including Classen and Dunn (2012)), while other causes of mortality typically decline in recessions (Ruhm (2000)) or are unchanged (Ruhm (2013)). In this project, a theoretical model is specified for linkages between increased unemployment, economic distress, and suicide. An empirical model is estimated for annual state-level data on labor markets and suicide in the United States from the period from 1999 to 2015. Given the substantial gradient in levels and growth rates of suicides across racial and ethnic groups, this paper focuses on the effects of the increase in unemployment during the Great Recession on suicides among non-Hispanic whites. This group has experienced enormous increases in suicide rates over the past decade and the role of job loss and labor market distress (as captured by the unemployment rate) in this increase appears strongest for females and those later in their labor lifecycle. However, the relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide does not appear to be statistically significant once year and state-level fixed effects are included in our models. This research enhances our understanding of how economic shocks impact individuals’ health choices and highlight an area of growing concern in rising mortality for certain populations.