Why Suicides Are More Common in Richer Neighborhoods

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Happiness is directly related to how much money we make. We’ve known that for a while. So it shouldn’t be surprising that our earnings also correlate with suicide rates.

A new paper from the San Francisco Federal Reserve shows that, all else being equal, suicide risks are higher in wealthier neighborhoods, a morbid demonstration of the folly of trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Daniel Wilson, senior economist at the San Francisco Fed, and two co-authors found that for two individuals with the same income but living in two different counties, the one who lives in the county with a higher average income is 4.5% more likely to commit suicide. At first it might seem surprising, but it begins to make sense when you think about how we tend to compare ourselves to those around us.

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You might assume that suicide rates would be elevated in lower-income neighborhoods and counties, and the study’s authors do point to findings that higher income generally lowers suicide risk. For example, an individual with family income less than $10,000 (in 1990 dollars) is 50% more likely to commit suicide than an individual with income above $60,000.

The twist comes when you look at low income individuals who live in high income areas. According to the study, they face greater suicide risk than those living in low-income areas. The study’s authors call it a “behavioral response to unfavorable interpersonal income comparisons.”

The study’s co-authors analyzed two independent sets of data to come up with their findings: the National Longitudinal Morality Study and the National Center for Health Statistics’ Multiple Cause of Death Files combined with information from the 1990 census.

Not surprisingly, being unemployed is also a factor in suicide risk. The Fed study found that suicide risk for the unemployed is 72% higher than for someone who is working.

Previous studies have found that $75,000 is the earnings tipping point in terms of happiness: Anything above that mark has no long-term effect on happiness, but each dollar below the $75,000 figure decreases happiness.

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The Fed study has discovered a new benchmark: $34,000. Make anything less than that and your risk of suicide increases by 50%; but raise your income from $34,000 to as high as $102,000 and suicide rates decrease only marginally.

Unfortunately, our self-reported happiness levels are largely based on comparisons with others — and proximity to more successful people makes us view our own situation negatively. The easiest way to solve this? Try to forget about what’s happening on the other side of the fence. It’s not always greener.

9 comments
Southernvoice
Southernvoice

Thank you for this sobering and realistic article.   I totally agree that one needs a certain amount of money to live a decent quality of life and I am not surprised that the benchmark for that is around $34K, assuming one has to pay rent or mortgage.   By quality of life, I don't mean eating out and driving nice cars, but having enough money to not have bill collectors harass you, being able to go to a doctor if you get sick (assuming you make enough to have health insurance), and being able to go grocery shopping regularly.  Not having one's basic needs met (such as food and shelter) would certainly be a suicide catalyst, I would think.

GriffinMeyer
GriffinMeyer

Josh sanburn, you are despicable. It is the egotistical consumeristic pricks like you that think money is the key to happiness that makes me lose faith in the general population. How did you become a reporter

WebGP
WebGP

"Unfortunately, our self-reported happiness levels are largely based on comparisons with others — and proximity to more successful people makes us view our own situation negatively." Given the 2000+ people that have already committed suicide in Greece after the IMF entry to the scene, I would add that our self reported happiness is largely based on comparison to what we used to have been, or just used to have. Unfortunately in Greece people have no money or much less that they used to, especially young at their most productive years, where unemployment is almost 50%. What can we say to those people, I wonder. 

cecilio
cecilio

This morning I was heart broken. I saw the girl that I am in love with g0t  out of the car of a guy. I thought he was his BF taking her to work. I learned later he is her father. I don't have a car. Right now I don't even have a regular employment. I am only working part time. I was terminated from my regular work for moonlighting and not being able to do my job well as a result of that moonlighting and the heavy workload that had been given me. I did not want to live my part time job for it was there that I met my lady love. I had been courting her but so far I have been unsuccessful. Though I know she liked me too. Now I'm not sure anymore if she still likes me. I am happy if I can live comfortably and can buy the the things that I want for my self and the people that I love. And I have the job that I love to do. That's it. I'm happy if I enjoy the things that I do, I can buy the things that I and my love ones like, and I love and being love in return. To me this is happiness.

eetom
eetom

Money does not buy happiness?  What can the lack of money buy?  It is better to miserably rich than to be miserably poor.  Wealth cannot buy everything but poverty can buy nothing.  I am not yet rich enough to say honestly that money is not an important thing in my life.

MiguelinIDAHO
MiguelinIDAHO

I have seen successful and unsuccessful suicides here in ID, some uncomfortably close to home.  I completely disagree with the premise of this story as it correlates happiness and wealth/income.  I don't dispute that suicide risk is higher in wealthier neighborhoods when everyone is constantly comparing what they have and feeling badly when they don't measure up.  

Many believe happiness is a function of money but I see it as a function of social success however that is defined by the individual.  Relating to me personally it is not my salary but the essence of the work I do, public service, which sustains me.  What sustains you may be different.  If I could do whatever I wanted in life it would not be a 9-5 job paying the bills...but I do what I want to do (music) in every spare moment and it keeps me sane.

rjsigmund
rjsigmund

hard to believe anyone would write this: "Happiness is directly related to how much money we make"

sick, sick, sick

AbyNormal
AbyNormal

@rjsigmund  

you aren't kiddin rj

another common sick/sadistic mindset:

'others are doin pretty bad so I consider myself Blessed'...

 "The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there"

md12345
md12345

@AbyNormal @rjsigmund Actually, I am an experimental psychologist and teach Introductory Psychology and I always make a point to discuss the fact that research does NOT support the claim that 'money buys happiness'. We actually need to ADJUST our expectations! It's really about our perception of what will make us happy. Furthermore, as our country has increased in wealth, reported happiness levels have NOT increased. Research in populations other than the US (e.g., Europe, Australia) has not supported the idea that money buys happiness either.