Individuals who live in disadvantaged cities where there are fewer family households are at greater risk of dying by suicide, according to a new study from sociologists at Rice University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Specifically, those at greatest risk for suicide lived in cities where 25 percent of residents or fewer lived in family settings. Whether they were married with children or single and living alone, these individuals were more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared with similar adults who lived in cities where 81 percent or more of the city’s population lived in family settings.
The findings support the notion that the risk of suicide is strongly influenced by social climate and family factors and not just a person’s individual characteristics or situation.
“Many people see suicide as an inherently individual act,” said Dr. Justin Denney, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice and director of the Urban Health Program. “However, our research suggests that it is an act that can be heavily influenced by broader socioeconomic and family factors.”
The participants were divided into four groups based on the percentage of that city’s total population living in family-like households.
After statistically adjusting for the family-living situation of adult survey respondents, including their marital status, the researchers found that the group of individuals at greatest risk for suicide lived in cities where 25 percent of residents or fewer lived in family settings.
In fact, these adults, whether they were married with children or single and living alone, were more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared with similar adults who lived in cities where 81 percent or more of the city’s population lived in family settings.
Furthermore, after statistical adjustments for educational attainment, household income and employment, participants who lived in more socioeconomically disadvantaged cities experienced a higher likelihood of death by suicide.
Specifically, for every standard-deviation-unit increase in socioeconomic disadvantage for the city of residence, the risk of suicide among adults living there — whether employed, unemployed, or even retired — increased by seven percent.
“Thankfully, suicide is a relatively rare cause of death.” Denney said. “But finding that the characteristics of the places we live can influence how long we live and how we die is an important consideration in addressing health disparities in the U.S.”
The research is consistent with previous statements that high rates of family households contribute to the stability and unity of communities, which in turn decreases problematic behavior.
He said the findings support the idea that community-level disadvantage may have broad impacts on the mental and emotional well-being of residents. The researchers hope that the study will help lower the risk of suicide by encouraging more investment in both individual and area-level resources aimed at fostering social integration and connectedness and eliminating socioeconomic disadvantages.
The findings are published in the Social Science Quarterly.
Source: Rice University