Suicide ain’t painless IV: What is going on in the Americas?

In the first installment of this series, we have looked at the situation in the ex-Warsaw Pact. The spike we saw in the suicide rates during the 1990s could be explained by the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, some of the other trends are a little harder to interpret. To see what we mean, let us look at some graphs.

Regional graphs

We have already discussed the post-Warsaw pact situation, so here we will touch on the other regions.

Africa The African numbers are very low, but also quite rapidly increasing. A quick look at the data shows that essentially 100% of the numbers for Africa are the numbers for (the Republic of) South Africa, and our statistics (which start 1996 for that region coincide roughly with the African National Congress (ANC) rule in the country. It should be noted that ANC, despite the very good press it has received in the West is an avowed Communist and racist organization, and the economy of the country is being destroyed systematically. As for the numbers being low in absolute terms – this seems to be a phenomenon of the entire sub-Saharan Africa — apparently, suicide is more-or-less foreign to the culture (though violence is most certainly not).

Asia The Asian numbers are largely those for South Korea and Japan, and these are quite heavily concentrated among the older (75+) cohort. This author’s guess is that there are a number of factors that enter:

  • Life expectancy is very high in South Korea and Japan (and getting higher), so these cohorts are quite large (and growing larger with the low birth rates and the consequent aging of the population.
  • There has been considerable social change in these generally very traditional societies. This change is particularly hard to countenance by older people.
  • In Japan particularly, there has been the much-discussed economic stagnation, so it is possible that more older people feel themselves a burden on their family.

Middle East A look at the data shows that the suicide rates (and absolute numbers) in the Muslim countries is extremely low, and so the Middle Eastern numbers are dominated by Israel. Here, the period considered is (with exceptions, which, ironically, coincide almost exactly with the flattening of the graph) dominated by Binyamin Netanyahu, both as Prime Minister and as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance under Ariel Sharon – Netanyahu had adopted a more muscular stance vis-a-vis the Palestinians, as well as had reformed the previously heavily Socialist Israeli economy, the latter providing a considerable boost to the Israeli economy and the former helping Israelis out of their previously uncertain and guilt-ridden state of mind, which led many (even patriotic) Israelis to question the long-term survival of the country. No more.

Europe The Europe rate decline before 2006 seems a mystery, but as we shall see, it is not so hard to explain: the answer, in two words is: “East Germany”. Indeed, while the population of Germany grew but some 3% between 1990 and 2007 years, the number of suicides dropped by 4000, and the suicide rate declined from 18.5 to 11.5. The 4000 drop is responsible for about 70% of the drop in the total number of suicides in Europe. The remaining 30% is entirely due to France, and I really cannot tell why.

The Americas We now get to the most interesting (or depressing, if you prefer) region. The suicide rate in the Americas was dropping until around 2000 and then started growing rapidly. Now, the absolute number (9.2 at the peak) is not that high, but let us look at some representative countries:

Suicide rates in the Americas

First we note the continued rise (off a rather low base) in Mexico and Brazil. Both countries have been woefully misgoverned during this period, with increasing Socialism in both. The most spectacular graph, however, is the one for the United States. Suicide rate was falling slowly until 2001, at which point it rose, first slowly under George W. Bush then rapidly under Barack H. Obama’s leadership. A closer look shows that the suicides have been particularly prevalent in the middle age white men cohort.This author sees two reasons for this. The first is the quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has led to a high number of combat veterans (the suicide rates of which is two-to-three times that of general population). The other is the much-documented “war on white men”, and the hollowing out of the traditional US heartland (for popular references, see Tucker Carlson’s “Ship of Fools”, and Victor Davis Hansen’s “The case for Trump”). Since these groups were instrumental in getting Donald J Trump elected President, the hope is that the numbers have started declining again (they had not in 2017).

Suicide ain’t painless III: Equality will make you happy (not)!

After my last post, some social justice minded readers asked about the relationship between unhappiness (as measured by suicide rates) and inequality, as measured by the GINI index (recall that the GINI index ranges from 0 to 100, the former corresponding to communist paradise, and the later to ancient Egypt). Luckily, the World Bank, in its munificence, has the requisite data, and so the results were not long in coming.

Suicide rate vs GINI index

The reader can see that the least egalitarian countries have the lowest suicide rates. Before we yield to temptation of using this study to yet again condemn socialism, we should note, as before, that correlation does not imply causation, and the countries with the higher GINI all tend to be in South America, and the ones with the lowest in central Europe, so there are many factors. Still, the numbers are what they are. What is particularly interesting is that the GINI index is negatively correlated with the GDP per capita, since the countries with the highest GINI index are essentially feudal, so what we have here are three quantities which are pairwise negatively correlated (not a mathematical surprise, exactly, but still fairly unusual).

Gini vs GDP

Suicide ain’t painless II: Does money buy happiness?

We continue our study of the Kaggle.com suicide data. The next question we ask is whether the level of per capita income affects the suicide rates. It should be noted that the GDP data in the suicides database is not the right data – it is not adjusted for inflation, which makes it less than useful. Instead, we merged the Kaggle data with the World Bank Data on GDP per capita Purchasing Power Parity in constant 2011 US Dollars. Without any further ado, here is the graph:

Suicide rate per 100000 vs GDP (in constant 2011 USD)

We see that while money might not be able to buy happiness, it does seem to alleviate the misery considerably. We should give the usual warning that correlation does not imply causation, since, for example, suicide rates in sub-Saharan Africa (represented here mostly by South Africa) are low, as are the incomes, while suicide rates in East Asia (Korea, Japan) are relatively high, as are the incomes, so there are underlying cultural reasons responsible for both x- and y- coordinates. Still, the relationship could not be clearer. An interesting companion graph is one where only the women’s suicides are counted (since the suicide rates among men are much higher, the similar graph for me is essentially identical to that for general population):

Womoen’s suicide rates

It seems that the situation for women is much more “binary”. There is high “unhappiness” rates until around $50K, but once that boundary is crossed all is well. This author will leave it to the sociologists to explain this phenomenon.