Is there a correlation between suicide rates and austerity in Euroland?

A brief look at the statistical numbers in selected Euro-member countries

The harsh austerity measures imposed on the Greek public since the depths of country’s financial crisis have led to a “significant, sharp, and sustained increase” in suicides, a study published in the British Medical Journal has found. The cutbacks, launched in June 2011, saw the total number of suicides rise by over 35 percent—equivalent to an extra 11.2 suicides every month—and remained at that level into 2012, according to a study published this week by the University of Pennsylvania, Edinburgh University and Greek health authorities. “The introduction of austerity measures in June 2011 marked the start of a significant, sharp, and sustained increase in suicides, to reach a peak in 2012,” a statement accompanying the study said.  –  Phillip Tutt: Greek austerity sparks sharp rise in suicides, Feb. 4, 2015, CNBC http://www.cnbc.com/id/102395651

There is no doubt that six years of deep recession in Greece have taken their toll on the population. The paper shows a statistically significant positive correlation between unemployment and male suicide, and an even more significant negative correlation between economic growth and male suicide.  … [But]… the authors set out to show that “austerity” itself is a cause of suicide in general, and particularly for older people affected by cuts to their fixed incomes. And I’m afraid they failed. They simply did not adequately demonstrate correlation between government spending cuts and suicide rates, let alone a causative relationship. The best they could do was show statistical significance at the 5% confidence level between government spending cuts and male suicide rates only (not age dependent) for data from 1968-2011. With weak statistical significance on a reduced data set, these findings are insufficiently robust. They do not show that Greek government spending cuts increased suicide rates. There was a slightly stronger relationship between deficit reduction and suicide rates – but deficit reduction itself is not necessarily due to what we normally call “austerity”, namely government spending cuts and tax rises. –  Frances Coppola, Austerity and Suicide: The Case of Greece, April 24, 2014, Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/francescoppola/2014/04/24/austerity-and-suicide-the-case-of-greece/

 

As austerity politics takes center stage so does the debate over the question whether austerity does or does not drive people into suicide. Noah denkt™ has maintained before that it is neither unemployment nor austerity politics that pushes people over the edge. Instead it is our firm conviction that outside psycho-pathological factors, it is first and foremost the individual’s perceived lack of hope that leads him or her to commit suicide. Nevertheless every life lost matters. And so we have taken it upon ourselves to look at the specific numbers in different Euro member countries (in this case Germany, France, Latvia, Greece and Spain). And the statistics here read as follows:

Please click here on this link to our project’s website. The subject table is too voluminous to reproduce it in this WordPress-platform …..

Naturally, everyone is invited to draw his or her own conclusions from the aforementionned table. Noah denkt™, however, would like to highlight the following observations:

  • In terms of total numbers, Greece’s suicide rate is even at 0,0043% significantly lower than that of all other countries mentioned in the table above. Obviously factors like climate, religion and history will be highly relevant to explain the lower suicide rates in Greece. Nevertheless the difference between Greece and equally sunny Spain is quite substantial in this respect.
  • The years of highest unemployment are not necessarily the years of the highest suicide rates as well. In the case of Latvia and Germany, for instance, the highest rates in both categories lie quite far apart. Clearly that difference must be explained by the significant turmoil that reunification in Germany and national independence in Latvia exerted on the parts of the local population. Nevertheless, it is also clear that there is some connection between high suicide rates and high unemployment rates. That correlation is particularly obvious in case of France and Spain. But all five countries in the table above show some interdependence between unemployment and suicide rate.
  • Since the introductions of the so-called Hartz-reforms in Germany (2003-2005), which serve to some as a blueprint for the current austerity politics the total population in Germany has consistently declined.
  • 2009 is the year when the current Euro crisis came to the fore. France’s suicide rates in that time frame have been lower than those from 1992 to the year 2000 when the French economy experienced double-digit unemployment rates. The same is true for Spain which from 1992 to 1998 registered equally high unemployment rates as it does nowadays when austerity is hitting it hard.
  • Greece too experienced double-digit unemployment rates around the time of the introduction of the Euro currency. (2001) Its suicide rates however were only marginally more elevated at that time.
  • Latvia enacted extremely tough austerity programs from 2009 to 2010. (35 of 59 hospitals in the country were closed; more than 100 schools were closed; 2400 teachers were laid off, half of the 75 state agencies were terminated; a total of 23000 civil servants (29%) were dismissed) The suicide rate, however, did not change significantly. The stability of the Latvian suicide rate can only be explained by Latvia’s entrenched desire to exit the orbit of Russia’s influence and integrate more intimately with the European Union. In other words, austerity in Latvia was generally associated with the hope that such policies would ultimately increase the general welfare and well-being of the Latvian population. Greece’s body politics, in contrast, has no faith in austerity politics and no interest to adopt what it calls a neo-liberal social model. In fact, the country is altogether overwhelmed by the requirements that the membership in a first world currency imposes on it. Hence, it is not austerity politics but the inadequacy of the Euro for the Greek economy that accounts for the present rise in suicide rates.
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