The connection between divorce and suicide risk in Asia is unclear. To understand the contribution of cultural transitions to suicide among the divorced, we compare age- and sex-specific suicide rates among divorced men and women from five Pacific Rim populations: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the state of Victoria in Australia. On a cultural spectrum, we consider Hong Kong and Taiwan to lie between the more individualistic Australian culture and the more collectivistic Japanese and Korean cultures. Coefficients of aggravation (COA) are also compared. Suicide rates were found to be higher among the divorced than among other marital status groups in all five populations, but this difference was small in Victoria. The effect of divorce was significantly greater for men than for women only in Japan and South Korea. In the other populations, divorced men and women were at equal risk. Age trends in suicide rates for the divorced groups differed across populations. The COAs for the divorced group aged 40 or younger in the East Asian populations were higher than the COAs for older divorced groups, though this was not the case in the Victorian population. Suicide patterns among the divorced in the East Asian populations can be understood in terms of the legacy of Confucian traditions. Gender differences in Japan and South Korea may reflect either gender inequality (male dominance in formal interactions and emotional dependence in domestic life within a deteriorating Confucian family support system) or unique socio-cultural factors among married women. Divorced East Asian groups aged 40 or younger may be at a higher risk of suicide due to individual-level cultural ambivalence combined with a desire for systemic-level emotional interdependence. Social welfare regimes in the four East Asian populations need to fill the vacancy left by retreating traditional family systems. Research implications are discussed.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.