Freakonomics Radio, Hour-long Episode 3: "The Suicide Paradox"

The Golden Gate BridgePhoto: Mélanie

There are more than twice as many suicides in the U.S. each year as there are murders. And yet the vast majority of them aren’t discussed at all. Unlike homicide, which is considered a fracturing of our social contract, suicide is considered a shameful problem whose victims — and solutions – are rarely the focus of wide debate. In this third hour-long episode of Freakonomics Radio, we’ll push back suicide taboos, profiling who is most likely to commit this act (and least likely), and what we know about them. African-Americans, for instance, commit suicide at half the rate of whites, for reasons tied to everything from racism to faith. And we’ll consider the opinion of those who see suicide as a rational act. The biggest surprise – the suicide paradox – is that suicide rates rise as does a country’s standard of living. To some, this makes suicide (gulp) a luxury good.

There’s a more extensive blog post with background research, photos, and links coming shortly. For now, you can listen or download via the link above, or read a transcript here. This episode and four more hours will be airing on public radio stations across the country this summer at various times, so check out your local station’s website. And you can subscribe to the Freakonomics Radio podcast on iTunes or via RSS.


Colin, for some reason the hour long episodes are not showing up on iTunes so I have not been getting them while I sleep....


Me too! No Freakonomics on iTunes = not cool :(


"we’ll push back suicide taboos"

I've sometimes wondered it the reduction of taboo is actually increasing the rate of suicide.

Here in Ireland it used to be a massive taboo. As Catholic conservatism declined, suicide rates appeared to increase. Partly this could have been because people had been covering up suicides in the past. But perhaps the Catholic taboos had really been keeping rates down. In the old days people were told they would go to hell forever if they committed suicide: might that perhaps have actually reduced rates?

Perhaps our modern willingness to discuss suicide and unwillingness to denounce victims could increase the prevalence. Though it may still be healthier to discuss and understand it.


In many countries where suicide was a taboo, the coroner simply changed the verdict to accidental death, in order to spare the relatives and friends the shame. This is still done in the country where I live on some occasions, especially for well-connected persons. As the taboo factor is reduced, the real verdict gains legitimacy.

Matt B

I keep going to sleep only to wake up to no new Freakonomics in my iTunes. Do I need to sleep more?