When Suicide Pays

A number of readers have written in about the headline-making suicides by employees at Foxconn, a huge Chinese company that manufactures electronics and computer components. (The fact that the Foxconn suicide rate seems to be below the national average seems to have escaped most scrutiny.) That said, workers at Foxconn’s plants reportedly face stressful working conditions in locations that, for some workers, are far from their homes (as is the case with much labor in China). But there may be a monetary incentive for the act as well: according to the Telegraph, Foxconn pays the families of the deceased ?11,000, or the equivalent of 6 to 10 years’ of salary. The company has announced a 30-percent pay hike, but its plan to stop the suicide payouts altogether has apparently been derailed by media attention. [%comments]

george jung

"Dear, we haven't hit the lottery, but I have a plan B...."

Someone in management wasn't paying attention, it seems.

Your comments on the suicide rate are confusing - on the one hand, lower than national rates, but..... higher than similar industries? Or is this just an opportunity to boost salaries, and pass the increased cost on to consumers (something the media has told us is coming, regardless. See the recent story on Japanese manufacturing in China)?


similar to minority report, where the faux bad guy is promised $$ for his family if cruise takes him out


"The company has announced a 30-percent pay hike, but its plan to stop the suicide payouts altogether has apparently been derailed by media attention."

But isn't that precisely what should happen? Foxconn should increase its worker's wages while they're living, and not incentivize them to kill themselves.


It came to me that if we could just talk suicidals into taking those that really deserve it with them, we could start cleaning up the world.

Instead, many suicides kill an ex-wife or, God forbid, their own children, in a last, despondent act. Not only is their legacy besmirched by being a suicide (that is still not very accepted), but it is forever tarnished by the hateful acts that went with it.

Ah, but if a suicidal person decided to take out the drug kingpin (all the time assuming he would be killed in the act--which is precisely what he would want, one would think), then not only does he go out NOT as a suicidal, but as a noble vigilante, but he also goes out as having went to his death performing some service for mankind.

There ought to be a club....

Wonks Anonymous

Public suicide is a political act of protest against an oppressive regime.

These suicides appear to have had some positive impact on the working conditions of the workers who remain alive and to have brought some economic benefits to the families of the workers who killed themselves.

It would be interesting to see some real economic discussion of the motivations and incentives for altruistic acts like political suicides. Instead we are treated to a snarky little essay telling us how wonderful the company these folks worked for is.


I wonder if they are like large American companies where it is up or out. The alternatives may be much worse than their current position.


This thing about the comparison with the national average is quite interesting. There was the same story with France Telecom in France, at the end of 2009(see for example The Economist, http://www.economist.com/world/europe/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_TQVRRTDQ, under paywall, or France 24: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrbeMFpJ_4U).
The article of the Economist from October 2009 was saying
"The French suicide rate is 14.6 per 100,000 people, according to the OECD. Men are particularly prone: 22.8, against 7.5 for women. This puts the suicides over 20 months at France Telecom, which employs just over 100,000 people, in line with the national average."

Yet, every time there was a suicide in the firm, it made the headlines in the news.

Eric M. Jones

I encourage suicides for those making bonuses of over $1,000,000 per year. Or is that just my commie Grandmother speaking through me?

Not a statistician

Mmmmm... it does not take a freakonomist to question whether Foxconn workers are a representative sample of China's population. I think not, so the comparison between suicide rates in the two groups is either naive or disingenuous.


#9: definitely. At least age and economic background should be taken into consideration. Still, I have a feeling that 20-something suicides for a giant industrial complex of 400 000 people isn't overboard.


Despite the working conditions in Foxconn, thousands of people still apply for jobs there every year simply because they can get paid on time.

When these workers see politicians having 2 or more mistresses, rich people having more power than the laws, the whole society worshiping the $ sign and on the other hand, themselves working 12-hour shifts, 6 days a week or even longer and yet still couldn't afford their children's tuition or medical bills, nevertheless being looked down upon all the time 'cause of their status...suicide might not be such a bad option.

socialism, capitalism...same product, different packaging


I think this company has their incentives structure a bit messed up. The payments provided to a person's family after their death are so huge that they're incentivizing people to end their lives, rather than spend their lives working for them. In my opinion, they should decrease the "death bonus" and they will most probably decrease the amount of suicides among their workers. Some people may argue that payments to families after an employee's death shouldn't be that attractive to an employee. But, they should consider that many of these employees come from an extremely poor background and would do anything to provide financial security for their families, even if its in the short run.


Here's a bit more nuance regarding comparing suicide rates at Foxconn versus the nation at large.

While its open to debate exactly what population we should compare Foxconn workers to (urban population, urban population age 18-24), it's clear that comparing them to the national average makes little sense, when over half of all suicides in China are women in the countryside. I'm surprised the blog even started with this broad comparison.

Crunching the suicide statistics at Foxconn


Bob Cringely, tech blogger, made the comparison with Foxconn's suicide rate to the national average last thursday:


Btw, who signs these unsigned posts? Everybody listef on the sidebar, including the site editor, sign their own posts.

"This blog, begun in 2005, is meant to keep the conversation going. Recurring guest bloggers include Ian Ayres (posts), Robin Goldstein (posts), Daniel Hamermesh (posts), Andrew W. Lo (posts), James McWilliams (posts), Eric Morris (posts), Sudhir Venkatesh (posts), and Justin Wolfers (posts).
Dwyer Gunn (posts) is the site editor."


Who made the most profit?
Apple, Dell, HP, Sony!
These company cut the price of cost. They don't have to worry no factories want to do business with them. There are so many competition.
How much they sell iphone to us? They made huge profit.