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Economic Factors and Suicide

Article in Review: Kerr W. C., Kaplan, M. S., Huguet, N., Caetano, R., Giesbrecht, N., & McFarland, B. H., (2017) Economic Recession, Alcohol, and Suicide Rates: Comparative Effects of Poverty, Foreclosure, and Job Loss. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 52(4). 469-475.

Summary: This brief article reviews research completed by Kerr and colleagues in 2017 that considered the role of poverty, foreclosures, unemployment and alcohol in potential rates of suicide.


It is commonly believed that a downturn in economic circumstances leads to an increase in suicide rates but is this foregone conclusion a  true reflection of reality? An US-based study by Kerr and colleagues in 2017 investigated the relationship between county-level poverty, foreclosures, unemployment and suicide rates along with the proportion of alcohol-involved suicides during the 2008-2009 recession.

Economic Factors

The collected data showed a clear correlation between county-level poverty rates and suicide rates for both men and women in the three different age groups, 20-44, 45-64, and 65+.

Foreclosure Rates
Interestingly, the study found there was a negative correlation between women and foreclosure rates while there was no connection between foreclosure rates and suicide for men. However, when looking at the different age groups it was found there was a significant positive relationship for people aged 45-64, yet no correlation existed for the 20-44 age group. Men and women aged 65 and older showed a significant negative impact on suicide rates.

It is interesting to note that unemployment rates had no significant relationship to suicide rates in any age group in the models incorporating all economic measures according to this research.

Men in the age group 20-44 showed a negative relationship with both foreclosure and poverty rates.  In contrast, men aged 65 and over were found to have a significant positive relationship with poverty rates. The study also concluded there was a negative relationship with unemployment rates for men aged 45-64. It is worthwhile mentioning that men aged 65 and over had no connection between economic conditions and alcohol involvement.

The results were entirely different for women where only ‘one significant relationship with an economic indicator was found in any model,’ according to Kerr et al. (2017, p. 4).

So what do these results mean?


  1. The strongest correlation was found between suicide and poverty rates, indicating the need for further research into this significant connection. In fact, increases in suicide rates are linked with a surge in poverty rates for all population groups.
  2. The link between poverty rates and alcohol-related suicides applied only to men in the age bracket of 45-64 years.
  3. Foreclosure rates were found to increase suicide rates among those aged 45-64 years but were associated with reduced suicide rates for women and those aged 65+.
  4. One surprising outcome was the fact that unemployment and suicide rates were unrelated for men aged 45-64 years and women older than 65.

This 2017 study by Kerr et al. highlights the finding that ‘unemployment and foreclosure rates are not as directly detrimental as poverty (p. 5).’ This compelling research emphasises the need for programs to support the unemployed and reduce poverty. Assisting those who have limited opportunities will have a direct impact on suicide rates while incorporating alcohol control policies and alcohol abuse prevention are also of extreme importance.

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