Suicide in Happy Places: Is There Really a Paradox?

Abstract

In 2011 researchers published a paper that exposed a puzzling paradox: the happiest states in the U.S. also tend to have the highest suicide rates. In the current study, we re-examine this relationship by combining data from the Multiple Mortality Cause-of-Death Records, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the American Communities Survey to determine how subjective well-being and suicide are related across 1563 U.S. counties. We extend the original study in important ways: by incorporating both absolute and relative measures of subjective well-being; by examining the happiness-suicide association at a more suitable level of analysis; and by including a more robust set of control variables in the model. Contrary to the previous study, we do not observe any significant relationship, negative or positive, between the absolute and relative well-being of places and suicide rates at the county-level. Implications for the study of suicide rates and relative deprivation are discussed.

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Correspondence to Philip M. Pendergast.

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Pendergast, P.M., Wadsworth, T. & Kubrin, C.E. Suicide in Happy Places: Is There Really a Paradox?. J Happiness Stud 20, 81–99 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-017-9938-y

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Keywords

  • Suicide
  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • Relative deprivation