Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide

68 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2001  

David M. Cutler

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Edward L. Glaeser

Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government, Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Karen Norberg

Boston University - Department of Psychiatry; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2001

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Cutler, David M. and Glaeser, Edward L. and Norberg, Karen, Explaining the Rise in Youth Suicide (March 2001). Harvard Institute of Economic Research Paper No. 1917. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=263440 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.263440

David M. Cutler

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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Edward L. Glaeser (Contact Author)

Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government, Department of Economics ( email )

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Room 315A
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United States
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Brookings Institution

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Karen Norberg

Boston University - Department of Psychiatry ( email )

Boston, MA
United States
617-414-7516 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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