The Suicide Paradox (Rebroadcast)

Season 7, Episode 45 There are more than twice as many suicides as murders in the U.S., but suicide attracts far less scrutiny. Stephen J. Dubner digs through the numbers and finds all kinds of surprises. To find out more, check out the podcast from which this hour was drawn: “The Suicide Paradox.”

New Freakonomics Radio Podcast: “The Suicide Paradox”

If I were to ask you what’s more common in the U.S., homicide or suicide, what would you say?
Homicide is certainly a lot more prominent; it’s constantly in the headlines and in our public consciousness. But the fact is that suicide is more than twice as common as homicide. The preliminary numbers for 2009, the most recent year for which we have data, show there were roughly 36,500 suicides in the U.S. and roughly 16,500 homicides.

So why don’t we hear more about suicide? In part because it is a very different type of tragedy. Murder represents a fractured promise within our social contract, and it’s got an obvious villain. Suicide represents –- well, what does it represent? It’s hard to say. It carries such a strong taboo that most of us just don’t discuss it much. The result is that there are far more questions about suicide than answers. Like: do we do enough to prevent it? How do you prevent it? And the biggest question of all: why do people commit suicide?

Those are just a few of the questions we address in our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Suicide Paradox.” This is the third of five hour-long podcasts we’ll be releasing over the coming weeks. Some of you may have heard them on public-radio stations around the country, but now all the hours are being fed into our podcast stream. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player above, or read the transcript here.) I have to say, many of the answers we found were surprising. And the topic in toto, while obviously a difficult one, is fascinating.

The Suicide Paradox

Season 1, Episode 3

If I were to ask you what’s more common in the U.S., homicide or suicide, what would you say?
Homicide is certainly a lot more prominent; it’s constantly in the headlines and in our public consciousness. But the fact is that suicide is more than twice as common as homicide. The preliminary numbers for 2009, the most recent year for which we have data, show there were roughly 36,500 suicides in the U.S. and roughly 16,500 homicides.

So why don’t we hear more about suicide? In part because it is a very different type of tragedy. Murder represents a fractured promise within our social contract, and it’s got an obvious villain. Suicide represents –- well, what does it represent? It’s hard to say. It carries such a strong taboo that most of us just don’t discuss it much. The result is that there are far more questions about suicide than answers. Like: do we do enough to prevent it? How do you prevent it? And the biggest question of all: why do people commit suicide?

Freakonomics Radio: Gambling With Your Life — or: Why Las Vegas is the Suicide Capital of the U.S.

One of the upcoming hour-long Freakonomics Radio shows we're currently producing (which will be heard on public-radio stations across the country, not just in the podcast stream) is about suicide. It's hard to pinpoint the thesis -- perhaps we don't quite have one -- but there are any number of interesting things to know about the problem, and ways to think about it.

The single most surprising fact to me is that suicides are more than twice as numerous in this country as homicides. Some questions that naturally arise from this fact: where are suicides most prominent, and among whom, and why?