Suicide and unemployment in Australia 1907-1990

Soc Sci Med. 1993 Mar;36(6):749-56. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(93)90035-3.


Ever since Durkheim postulated a relationship between economic change and suicide there has been evidence of a general association between aggregate data on unemployment and the frequency of suicide. Quantitatively, however, the association has been variable and it is clear that due to differing cultural, social and individual determinants of suicide, the relationship is complex. Methodological difficulties abound with interpretation of aggregate data. Australian records for most of the present century are suitable for examining secular trends in suicide and unemployment by age group and gender to gain an indication of the extent to which both parameters may be causally related. An aggregate/ecological study was designed to incorporate quantitative and qualitative strategies. Annual age-adjusted male and female suicide rates and annual unemployment rates were derived for the period 1907-1990. Female suicide rates were generally stable throughout the period, whereas those for males demonstrated sharp fluctuations with the peaks coinciding with times of high unemployment. The association between suicide and unemployment for 15-24 year old males was comparatively high for the recent period, 1966-1990. The increasingly youthful contribution to male suicide was demonstrated by a rise in the loss of life years during 1973-1984. Despite the inability of any investigation based on aggregate data to establish an unequivocable causal relationship, no evidence was detected to suggest that relatively high population levels of unemployment were not related to the occurrence of suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide / trends
  • Unemployment / psychology*
  • Unemployment / statistics & numerical data
  • Unemployment / trends