Fewer Murders, More Suicide?

GOOD produced this sharp info-graphic on murder rates worldwide. One interesting trend it doesn’t show: countries with lower murder rates tend to have higher rates of suicide. Take Japan, which has one of the lowest murder rates in the world — just 0.5 per 100,000 people. It also has a very high rate of suicide, 23.7 per 100,000. Jamaica, on the other hand, has an unusually high murder rate — 49 per 100,000 — and the unusually low suicide rate of 0.35 per 100,000. There are outliers, of course. The highest suicide rates in the world are to be found in successor states to the Soviet Union and the former Warsaw pact, including the Ukraine (52.1), Belarus (63.6), and the Russian Federation itself (70.6). Murder rates in these countries are also elevated (7.04, 7.53, and 16.5 respectively). By way of comparison, the murder rate in the U.S. is 5.8 per 100,000. The suicide rate is 10.85, meaning you’re twice as likely to die by your own hand here than at the hands of another. [%comments]

science minded

if you wanna know more about why there's so much suicide these days worldwide. Read Durkheim. When societal regulation is too weak or too strong, you have anomic suicide or fatalistic suicides (without suficient regulation or too much regulation) or societal integration is too strong or too weak, you have altruistic or egoistic suicide. See Goldstein, 1995 Essentials of sociology. So Tom and other interested parties- I would examine the suicide rates at such times in the middle east when the peoples are left to their own devices as compared to when they are not. If `Tom's `theory' is specifically correct and Durkheim's grasp of societies, is correct generally speaking, I would predict lower suicide rates in that region when they are left to their own devices to regulate themselves.


I think, when your brain is spending all its energy avoiding dangerous situations, finding clothes and shelter and all the other tribulations of people in poor areas, it has less time to get depressed or think of suicide regardless of any objective quality of life.

I think you'd find the same correlation even within american cities - rich, white, suburban communities probably have higher suicide rates than poor brown inner cities.


Except I live in Baltimore, which means I'm 5-and-a-half times more likely to get offed by someone else than by myself (if you want to take Maryland's suicide rate of ~8.5 versus the homicide rate for Baltimore of 45).


Huh, that's a *terrible* infographic. It doesn't plot the whole range of murder rates, so you can't see the context. The horizontal position is not linearly related to the murder rates. There's some sort of implication that the depth of the tag (or size of the tag) is meaningful, but it's not. The dead person in the middle of the image is the least of the infographic's problems!

Richard, UK

Interesting article but I was surprised to read:

'The suicide rate is 10.85, meaning you're twice as likely to die by your own hand here than at the hands of another. '

This statement ignores the fact that an individuals inherent probability of murder or suicide is a function of their own traits. Be interesting to see some probalistic regressions on the determinants of murder rates to explain some of these results. Imagine it would be far too murky.

Jason S

I think I would have to disagree with both of the comments above, not because I think they are flat out wrong but because I think there is more to it than a simple answer such as that. This isn't just a society thing and it probably isn't a poor vs. rich thing and it most definately isn't a brown vs. white thing. (why people almost out of instinct assume every poor person is black or brown and every rich person is white is a whole other subject)
If you look at the top murder rate countries you have conflict African nations and drug run South American countries. While poverty is certainly present in both types of countries they aren't the only poor nations. If you look at the suicide numbers, again there is a poverty and crime connection in many cases, especially the former Soviet countries like you list above. There still seems to be more to it than that however.
I wonder if it has more to do with the fact that in violent areas, whether countries or cities, you attain a measurable amount of hope through survival. Now this would most likely be a 'relavent range' type of thing because at a certain point the violence just becomes an additional ciphon of hope. However, in some of these countries the mere fact of surviving the day gives you something you can really attach hope to. It isn't merely not having time to not get depressed, it is that you have actually accomplished something, you made it through another day.
While it could just be in some places that the people that would have ended up killing themselves were more likely the ones that were murdered in countries with heavy drug trade and war. This would be much like your argument for the drop in crime rates in the 90's because of abortion.
But I cannot help but wonder what affect hope has on these numbers, both economic hope and emotional.


science minded

Exactly-- the trials and tribulations have a regulative affect in the social sense. Curiously, I once looked at the relationship between number of people in household and attitudes towards suicide. Living alone and hence weak integration and regulation (from a social i.e., attitudinal standpoint) makes for a more positive attitude towards suicide generally speaking. When the number in household goes to 7 (at that point) attitudes turn positive.

Keep in mind, however, that Durkheim's reference point was not the specific individual. It was the group/society as a whole thing.

Goldstein, 1989, 2009

science minded

Dear Jason;

the point is- what is your reference point? MIne- when referring to the sociologist Emile Durkheim is not the specific individual, but (relatively speaking) it is the group (generally speaking). In other words--you Wanna do science-- keep em relatively separate (conceptually and methodologically)-- which was Einstein's whole point that he acquired from--yes- us in Sociology-- I hate to break this news-- but it is `true'-

How do I know? Robyn Ann Goldstein, 2003 (unpublished) and now published (2009) and in the process of editing)

science minded

I should add (in the interest of correctness and giving proper recognition where it is due)-- thanks to a friend from the field of psychology. (Goldstein, 2003)

Robyn Ann Goldstein

sorry- but I meant Einstein's friend. I too had one from the field of psychology and I wish he were here to appreciate this real moment. But I am certain that he saw, predicting, it coming

Science Minded

Jason S

My reference point is more encompassing I feel. Instead of looking at just the individual or just the society on the general level I am thinking of it in terms of how the emotions, the positives and the negatives flow through a society to the individual and vice versa. I feel that in finding these things that go beyond the individual or beyond the group as a whole. As you note above the affect that family has on the suicide rate, because there is no flow through mechanism for anything to connect them to society at large. It is the intermediate society, whether family or community, that gives a better insight into why people do things. To simply say because they are poor negates the findings, poverty is one part of it but in order to break it down further, either to find what keeps the poverty from creating the violence or what enforces the negativity of poverty.
Granted this is more difficult as the individual can overide any influences to make a decision positive or negative but I think that it is in this area where individuals and society connect or don't connect that tell you more when you are trying to look at subjects like this.
To bring it back to an economic idea, these studies are just recounting a series of micro events, we are trying to understand them in a macro context but without understanding the micro any macro we come up with will be wrong because we have no way of knowing why it is that way or if it will always hold true.



So is there a place where the suicide/murder rate has taken a wild swing in the other direction within a generation or two?

For example, if Elbonia had a very high murder rate in the 1970's but now has a very low rate, did its suicide rate invert also?


Science Minded -

Good call on Durkheim. That was the first thing on my mind when I saw the title of this post.


The picture is not complete without some more deep insight into the cultural dynamics of each country.
Take for example the suicide rate of former Soviet Republic where the collapse of existing order led millions of men into heavy drinking and that's the number one killer over there , and IT IS suicide (albeit slow and painful).
Or North America where millions of its citizens are on anti-depressants and otherwise would just killed themselves and the rate of suicide would go through the roof.


Very interesting observation, I wonder if anyone has been studying this a little more in depth.

Personally I'd always choose a country with high suicide and low murder rate. At least then it is more probably your own decision if you are going to die prematurely.

Richard A.

Elderly people are much more likely to commit suicide than young people. There' re lots of elderly people in Japan. I strongly suspect that the average age of those who commit suicide in Japan is higher than those who commit suicide in the US.


I think I read that we now have the highest suicide rate we've had in any war for US soldiers(correct me if I'm wrong), and at the same time we have very few casualties compared to past wars.

I wonder if the suicide rates of soldiers is inversely related to the rate of death by enemy fire.
For those offering sociology theories, do you think the same apply to both situations?

Jason S

You are right as far as I am aware of the low death rate to high suicide rate. One person put it to me like this, "The most horrible thing about modern warfare is that our soldiers now survive it." Now this is from a soldier and he was remarking that they didn't have to deal with PTSD and depression and the tragedy of losing your limbs or functionality of your body, because in previous wars you died from it. Now they surive and have to deal with things that even the health professionals aren't equipped to deal with properly.

science minded

Dear Jason;

Of course, emotions as in one aspect of the whole person of the individual. I never meant to suggest otherwise. But the reference point of the individual is not the reference point of the group. The sociologist Max Weber's reference point was, relatively speaking, the individual for understanding substantive (specific) problems in the universal history of culture i.e., specific culture communities including the sib in China as distinct from the caste in India, specific organizations, Specific churchs, specific institutions and particular civilizations (like that of the West as relatively distinct from, but comparable to that of China. (See Goldstein, 1991 Max Weber's Contribution to `Knowledge' of the origins of Chinese Thought. PhD. finished at the Graduate School and University Center of CUNY.

Durkheim's reference point, relatively speaking, was the phenomenon of the group as a whole i.e., of the treatment of people (groups) in general terms as things (including their ways of thinking, feeling and acting) .And by the by, on this point, there is unanimity i.e., real agreement between all concerned thus far Goldstein , 2003 (not yet published)

So thanks Caliphilosopher. I appreciate the complement.

So going back to the matter of suicide. Durkheim and Weber would have looked at it somewhat differently. It is not a matter of better, but `different' and for the researcher a choice. I have analyzed Weber's work on China and found a specific reason to be concerned about the problem of suicides here and elsewhere. But if I were going to pursue the problem using the approach that Weber adopted of "Understanding" as "the specific characteristic of sociological knowledge", I would not be aiming to generalize, but to typify and would even approach statistics differently (wherein the cause could become the effect) i.e., unlike in the case of things where effect follows cause. I don't know if this helps. Would suggest you read Essentials Sociology, 1995 (now in 10th or so printing) Research and Education ASsn. of NJ. by Robyn A. Goldstein Fuchs (that's me)

So all in all, we need to approach the problem from all angles. On a personal note, that is the way that my dad approached his' health. He intuitively grasped the science of health care and health management. There are a number of ways to skin this cat and all can contribute to our scientific knowledge base. So, my colleagues should have a field day with this. Really!



Even though I agree that there is more to the issue of suicide rates than just ethnicity and social class, but being rich or poor does affect the correlation of the data when it is compared. The 10 countries with the highest murder rates have a great percentage of the people under the poverty line and the majority is poor. Top 5 countries with the highest murder rates are Honduras (154.2/100,000) , South Africa(121.91/100,000), Swaziland(93.82/100,000), Columbia(69.98/100,000), and Lesotho(50.41./100,000).
In these countries there is relatively no middle class and the wealthiest class is the minority whether they are black or white. Having more poor people in neighborhoods and cities does increase the chance for murder because desperation and survival causes people to act irrationally which in some cases means taking from another at the expense of their life. In 2005 Lithuania had the highest suicide rate yet the population below the poverty line was only 4%. The countries with the highest suicide rates are richer than the countries with the highest murder rates.

Im also inclined to believe that the emotions produced because of economic policies and successes are equally important as how wealthy the individual or group is. For instance, Japan who's population majority is the working middle class has the ninth highest suicide rate. This is a result of social pressures, and hopes crushed because of economic turns. How pleased a certain group, individual, or population is as a result of economic suppression or economic liberties is directly proportional to suicide rates and murder rates. Sweden, a presumably wealthy nation, may not have the highest suicide rate but it's still high and it has one of the lowest poverty rates in the world. "Happiness Surveys" have been conducted in Sweden and results show that the people in higher classes are strangely more unhappy than people in lower classes despite their economic situation, thus even though Sweden is prospering under its economic system the people at some point became to pleased with their situation, which in return has become the reason for suicide.

The rich vs poor fact is a factor that cannot be neglected even though other factors may play a bigger role on suicide rates and murder.