FMC Home Link PBS Program LinkFMC Book LinkViewer's Voices LinkInteractivity LinkTeacher's Guide
  Book Intro LinkBook Authors LinkBook Download LinkCredits Link
FMC Logo 1
  < Back to Contents
  Chapter Eight:

  Health of Children
  Health of Adults
  STDs and AIDS
  Illegal Drugs
  Accidental Deaths
  Hospital Patients
  Health Care Costs
  Mental Patients
  Disabled Persons



FMC Logo 2  



chart link spacer



The suicide rate fluctuated with economic conditions during the first half of the century and then leveled off in the second half. Every year, more Americans killed themselves than were killed by others.
As the chart shows, the suicide rate fluctuated sharply in the early part of the century, rising during recessions and dropping during economic expansions. The suicide rate reached a high of 17.4 per 100,000 people in the depths of the Depression. After 1945, it averaged 11.5 per 100,000 people, with little annual variation. 

The number of suicides exceeded the number of homicide victims by nearly 60 percent. In 1997, there were 29,700 suicides and 18,800 homicide victims. (See page 214.) 

The incidence of suicide was highest among whites and males. The suicide rate for whites was about twice as high as the rate for blacks, regardless of gender or age. This disparity was greater in the early years than the later years of the century. Male suicides were four times more numerous than female suicides. The gender disparity was also greater in the early years of the century. After age sixtyfive, the propensity for suicide increased dramatically for men but declined slightly for women. Older white men have a suicide probability about 500 times higher than older black women. 

The periodic surges in adolescent suicide reported in the media seem to be local phenomena. Although the adolescent suicide rate increased 11 percent from 1980 to 1997, it remained below the rate for any adult age group. Suicide attempts, however, were more frequent among adolescents. One authority estimated that 98 percent of adolescent suicide attempts were unsuccessful. 

Guns were the preferred means of suicide for both sexes, although by a lesser margin for women, who preferred poison until about 1970. There is considerable regional variation in suicide, with the highest rates in the Mountain and Pacific states and the lowest in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

Chapter 8 chart 4

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series H 980; SA 1988, table 117; SA 1997, table 127; and SA 1999, table 137. For adolescent suicides, see Lawrence Steinberg, Adolescence, 5th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996). For regional variation, see SA 1979, table 111. For other information, see SA 1997, tables 130132, 139, and 1339.


<<Previous      Next>>  


PBS Program | Trends of the Century | Viewer's Voices | Interactivity | Teacher's Guide