Attitudes of older people toward suicide and assisted suicide: an analysis of Gallup Poll findings

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1995 Sep;43(9):993-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1995.tb05563.x.


Objectives: To describe the older population's attitudes toward suicide and assisted suicide, and to determine whether lenient attitudes are associated with known demographic and psychosocial risk factors for completed suicide.

Design: Telephone survey conducted by the Gallup Organization in November 1992.

Participants: A sample of 802 adults in the United States (541 women and 261 men) aged 60 years and older.

Measurements: The dependent variables, attitudes toward suicide, were assessed with five attitude statements. Participants rated their agreement with each statement on 4-point Likert-type scales, subsequently dichotomized for use in univariate analyses and logistic regressions. The independent variables included income and demographic and psychosocial risk factors for suicide: age, gender, race, marital status, religiousness, self-rated health, and satisfaction with family relationships.

Results: The majority of respondents did not express lenient attitudes. In comparison with survey findings of physicians and the general population, a relatively smaller percentage (41%) of these older respondents believe that physician-assisted suicide should be legalized. Agreement with one or more of the attitudes presented was associated with age, gender, race, marital status, and religiousness in univariate analyses (P < .05), and race, religiousness (P < .001), gender, self-rated health, and satisfaction with family relations (P < .08) in logistic regressions.

Conclusions: The hypothesized relations between risk factors for suicide and lenient attitudes toward suicide were supported. Although none of the risk factors was associated with all five attitudes, in combination the results suggested that a common set of variables predict both lenient attitudes toward suicide and suicidal behavior. Future research is necessary to determine the role of depression and other factors that may mediate the observed relationships and to determine whether the presence of specific, strongly held attitudes sanctioning suicide in an older person signals the need to assess suicide risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology
  • Attitude to Death
  • Data Collection
  • Family
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide, Assisted / psychology*
  • United States