Suicide acceptability in African- and white Americans: the role of religion

J Nerv Ment Dis. 1998 Jan;186(1):12-6. doi: 10.1097/00005053-199801000-00003.


Rates of suicidal behavior are lower among African- than white Americans. We analyzed the association of suicide acceptability with religious, sociodemographic, and emotional variables in representative samples of African- and white Americans (1990). Adjusted for ethnic response bias, the former were less accepting of suicide than the latter (odds ratio .60; 95% confidence interval .41, .88). Orthodox religious beliefs and personal devotion predicted rejection of suicide best; this effect was equally strong in both groups. The comparatively low level of suicide acceptability among African-Americans was mostly attributable to their relatively high levels of orthodox religious beliefs and devotion, as opposed to practice and affiliation, although sociodemographic and emotional differences contributed as well. These results are interpreted using the cognitive dissonance model. Given rapid secularization among the young in the United States, these findings may help explain the rising suicide rates among white and, especially, African-American young people.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude*
  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Probability
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Social Values
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • United States