Suicide, Age, and Wellbeing: an Empirical Investigation
Suicide rates, life evaluation, and measures of affect are all plausible measures of the mental health and wellbeing of populations. Yet in the settings we examine, correlations between suicide and measured wellbeing are at best inconsistent. Differences in suicides between men and women, between Hispanics, blacks, and whites, between age groups for men, between countries or US states, between calendar years, and between days of the week, do not match differences in life evaluation. By contrast, reports of physical pain are strongly predictive of suicide in many contexts. The prevalence of pain is increasing among middle-aged Americans, and is accompanied by a substantial increase in suicides and deaths from drug and alcohol poisoning. Our measure of pain is now highest in middle age—when life evaluation and positive affect are at a minimum. In the absence of the pain epidemic, suicide and life evaluation are likely unrelated, leaving unresolved whether either one is a useful overall measure of population wellbeing.
Deaton acknowledges funding support from the Gallup Organization, with whom he is a consulting Senior Scientist, and from the National Institute on Aging through the NBER, grants numbers 5R01AG040629-02 and P01 AG05842-14, and through Princeton's Roybal Center for Translational Research on Aging, Grant P30 AG024928. Case acknowledges support from the National Institute on Aging under Grant P30 AG024361. We thank David Cutler and Julie Phillips for perceptive and helpful comments. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Suicide, Age, and Well-Being: An Empirical Investigation, Anne Case, Angus Deaton. in Insights in the Economics of Aging, Wise. 2017