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Suicide gender gap

Sociology professor researching the vast discrepancy between male and female suicide rates
December 6, 2010
By Katherine Gombay
Source: Concordia Journal

Anthony Synnott is having a hard time working on his next book. He finds it makes him unhappy, hardly surprising given his subject matter. The Concordia sociology professor first wrote about male suicide in the 1990s. Twenty years later, the subject still haunts him and the figures tell the same sad story.

The statistics he presents in his most recent book, Rethinking Men: Heroes, Villains and Victims (Ashgate 2009), are startling. According to the World Health Organization’s research from 97 countries, about one million people commit suicide every year. This breaks down to 2 700 people every day or 114 per hour. And though suicide statistics vary greatly from one country to another, there is one constant. Most people who commit suicide are men, 74% to 79% of them, according to research from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

“Male suicide numbers are higher than female in all 97 countries except perhaps for China, where … the data is incomplete,” writes Synnott. Proportions of male to female suicides vary widely from country to from 10:1 to 2:1, depending on a host of variables from religion to alcohol consumption to values. In the U.S., for example, double the number of white men kill themselves compared to black men (with suicide rates of 20% and 9% respectively), and the rates of suicide for white women are just half of those for black men (5%) and are lower still for black women (2%). In Canada, the rates of suicide are highest among First Nations peoples. With 24 per 100,000 people they are double the national average. Yet here again, male suicide rates are three-and-a-half times as high as female suicide rates. And in Nunavik, where suicide rates are a horrifying 14 times higher than the national average, the same pattern persists, with six times as many Inuit men killing themselves compared to Inuit women.

Though two Canadian task forces on suicide have pointed to the fact that such groups as prisoners, alcoholics, and those with AIDS (all mostly men) are at higher risk for suicide, there is no single factor, according to Synnott, that can explain why so many more men than women commit suicide.

He believes however, that it has something to do with diverse aspects of “male culture,” from the films that might lead men to realize that they are expendable in war to the fact that men are generally more socially isolated than women. Behaviour during disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic and 9/11 seems to imply their lives are worth less than those of women and children, and that it is worth sacrificing their lives for others. There are various theories about suicide, developed by Sigmund Freud, Émile Durkheim, Douglas and Edwin Shneidman, but none focus directly on the issue of gender, Synnott believes. It is likely that his new work will address this situation.

Related links:
•    Concordia Department of Sociology and Anthropology
•    This is a man's world? -- NOW, September 13, 2010

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