Dark contrasts: The paradox of high rates of suicide in happy places

Mary C. Daly, Andrew J. Oswald, Daniel Wilson, Stephen Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Suicide kills more Americans each year than die in motor accidents. Yet its causes remain poorly understood. We suggest in this paper that the level of others' happiness may be a risk factor for suicide (although one's own happiness likely protects one from suicide). Using U.S. and international data, the paper provides evidence for a paradox: the happiest places tend to have the highest suicide rates. The analysis appears to be the first published study to be able to combine rich individual-level data sets-one on life satisfaction in a newly available random sample of 1.3 million Americans and another on suicide decisions among an independent random sample of about 1 million Americans-to establish this dark-contrasts paradox in a consistent way across U.S. states. The study also replicates the finding for the Western industrialized nations. The paradox, which holds individual characteristics constant, is not an artifact of population composition or confounding factors (or of the ecological fallacy). We conclude with a discussion of the possible role of relative comparisons of utility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-442
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Volume80
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Happiness
  • Relative comparisons
  • Suicide
  • Well-being

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