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Another Explanation for Male Suicide

When we highlighted the disturbing uptick in male suicides in a post last week, we noted that a weaker economic outlook for adult men may play a significant role in driving this trend. As the thinking goes, men are finding it more difficult to find work, which makes it harder to find partners and build a family in a stable community, which contributes to the social isolation that puts one at a greater risk for suicide.

But in a recent column at the New York Times, Ross Douthat takes a look at the same data and draws a slightly different conclusion. He thinks that it’s not just the economy, but broader cultural forces that are making it more difficult for ordinary Americans to form the stable, tight-knit communities that have acted as a social safety net for generations:

For many people, the strongest forms of community are still the traditional ones—the kind forged by shared genes, shared memory, shared geography. And neither Facebook nor a life coach nor a well-meaning bureaucracy is likely to compensate for these forms’ attenuation and decline….

Our society is often kinder to differences and eccentricities than past eras, and our economy rewards extraordinary talent more richly than ever before.

The problem is that as it’s grown easier to be remarkable and unusual, it’s arguably grown harder to be ordinary. To be the kind of person who doesn’t want to write his own life script, or invent her own idiosyncratic career path. To enjoy the stability and comfort of inherited obligations and expectations, rather than constantly having to strike out on your own….

Too often, and probably increasingly, not enough Americans will have…a place that knew them intimately, a community to lean on, a strong network in a time of trial.

Douthat’s argument is thought-provoking and well worth reading in full. Read the whole thing.

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  • Loader2000

    After reading the ‘whole thing’ I went down to the comments. Apparently, readers of the NYTs do not like even the mere suggestion that the breakdown of traditional communities and small town values has anything to do with higher suicide rates. It is all the fault of Republicans for not letting Obama pass an even larger stimulus bill. After all, they all know about some person that killed themselves that DID go to a church, so, you know, argument over.

  • Anthony

    Douthat’s argument is that modernity has brought benefits (experience, knowledge, health, etc.) but has come up short in replacing communal social arrangements. Question to be asked is how has attributed male suicide become a product of social, cultural, and material conditions – in America what has changed (conditions and common thread). Also, can insular communities as part of Democratic Dilemma remain backstop to modern alienation – resisting modern currents of the information age?

  • I’m inclined to agree with Douhat. It should be easy enough to compare suicide rates among people who live in small town-rural areas vs. big cities, married people with children who live with or near extended families vs. childless singles living far from their birth homes, etc.

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