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Economic and sociological analysis of suicide

Economic and sociological analysis of suicide

There are many reasons why people commit suicide. People can

decide to commit suicide themselves or be pushed to do it. Most of the

factors, in reality can be explained by the Cost/benefit theory of

Economics of Human Behaviour which says that people will do anything until

Marginal costs will exceed Marginal benefits.

RELIGIOUS FACTOR - One of the most powerful social factors

determining a level of suicides is the religion. Since according to

Cost/benefit theory people try to minimize their costs while maximizing

benefits and will only do something if Marginal benefits exceed Marginal

costs. We can assume that if religious leaders would promise better life

and god’s forgiveness of all sins people committed, some people under

psychological stress would believe them and commit suicide since for the

expected benefits would exceed expected costs. This is widely practiced in

Islam. According to Islam to die for Allah is the greatest thing a living

Muslim can do.

In Judaism on the other hand, value of life is emphasized, and

consequently for the sake of preservation of life the devout Jews are

allowed to break all religious laws, except for refusal of the god, murder

and sexual relationship between relatives. The benefits of life are

emphasized in Judaism and for Jews costs of suicide are large than benefits

since belief in afterlife is not practiced.

In Christian countries it is a shame to attempt to destroy

yourself according to the words of Bible. People who attempted suicide

faced refusal of society to accept them and were buried on the edges of

cemeteries or by the roads when died. Thus social and religious costs of

committing suicide in those countries is very high and are greater than

benefits of facing God in Heaven. This is one of the main reasons of the

lowest level of suicides now in Italy, Spain and number of the Latin

American countries - the huge influence of Catholicism in these countries.

It is established by the modern researchers, that as a whole in countries,

where the influence of religion is weaker and religious norms connected in

particular with suicide are more humanely , the percentage of suicide

attempts is higher. Because in countries with high religious influence

God’s punishment for killing yourself is much higher and people are afraid

to “sin” by even thinking about suicide.

In World History there were a lot of people who had the gift of

persuasion. These people could persuade anyone to do anything and even

commit suicide. These individuals often gathered citizens under some idea,

attacked these citizens emotionally to break their will in order to gain

full control over the minds of these people. These evil masterminds often

attempted mass suicide in connection to some important “religious” date or

even public holiday. People believed these individuals because of the

promises of great benefits of dying or of simply belonging to some

particular religious group and rejecting the rest of the world. After some

time the perception of persuaded people was so greatly distorted that the

benefit of simply seeing ‘the master’ was unsurpassed by any of the cost

they might have incurred.

The cost of suicide also increases when considering public opinion

about suicide: “What will other people think of me? “. Traditional thought

would include God as one of “the other persons” who might have and express

disapproving attitudes[1]. Finally, attendance at religious services

potentially gives individuals access to a support network. Those without a

support network are most likely to commit suicide.[2] The support network

brings a lot of benefits to people, things like new friendships,

affiliation, understanding. This increased benefits of life compared to

benefits of suicide and made people change their mind to stay alive.

THE SOCIAL FACTORS - Other kind of suicide factors is directly

connected to the social reasons, is this case, public situation of any

group of people or concrete individual for many independent or personal

reasons is so hard and intolerable, in other words the cost of living

through another day becomes so high and exceeds benefits by such a great

amount that the suicide becomes the only real way to get free from

sufferings. Things that raise thoughts of suicide can be: Need of money and

work, need for affiliation, death of a beloved person, realization of being

unable to change things and never-ending struggle for existence. The rate

of suicide in the world can be reflected by the world economic stability.

During recessions many people loose their jobs and businesses and have to

sell their homes and are forced to follow poor style of life. In 1840-1850

the claim that suicide was an urban phenomenon in Paris and that it was

related to poverty and occurred more frequently among laboring poor were

repeated by many writers[3]. For these people not only emotional but also

monetary costs were enormous. This might have caused depression, sorrows

and have led to suicide attempts. It has also proven that in big cities

rate of suicide is much higher than in countryside. According to St. Thomas

Aquinas “Every man belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he

injures the community”[4]. Thus, suicide of person imposes high marginal

cost on his friends and relatives. It is very important to us what other

people think of us and thus we will weight costs and benefits of dying

before attempting suicide.

Costs and benefits of love may be another social factor of

suicide. In Johann Goethe’s "The Sorrows of Young Werther" the main

character decides to die because the woman that he loves does not love him

back. For him the cost of realization that his expected benefits of being

together with her is very high and in addition to that the cost of seeing

her happy with someone else made the character to shoot himself, for him

that was the only way to stop his sorrows and the benefit of dying was much

higher for him at that point. Unfortunate love of Romeo and Juliet for

example led to their suicide, or in “Ethan Frome” the main character

decides to slide into a tree with his beloved woman when his wife refused

to let him go. For these characters the cost of living apart from each

other was so high that they decided to die to be together in another

life.[5] Finally many young people kill themselves every year because of

their love to some celebrity. Many attempt suicide after their object of

affection died or also committed suicide. They do so because of a high

expected benefit of being with him/ her in the afterlife and high cost of

living without that person in their lives. E.g. watching that person on TV

and realizing that he/she is gone. In the past, a person had to kill

himself/herself when his/her spouse died. Examples are: wife of a well-

known in the Roman history Caesar Brut swallowed pieces of burning coal

when she found out about death of her husband. In India the custom “sati” -

self-burning of the widow together with a body of the husband down to XIX

of century was not simply sample for imitation, but also obligatory


PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS - such as depression and panic. Several studies in

recent years have suggested that people with panic disorder are more likely

to attempt suicide than patients with other psychiatric conditions. One

explanation was that panic disorder, when combined with clinical

depression, made people more prone to suicide[7]. "Depression is a very

significant predictor of whether or not a patient with panic disorder will

engage in some kind of suicide behavior. But depression alone doesn't

account for it all" said professor Brad Schmidt of University of Ohio[8].

The study also proved positive relationship between level of expected

anxiety and suicide attempts rate. For these people the cost of doing

virtually anything is risen by the level of worry and if for a long time,

marginal cost of living through another day is much higher than benefits,

people can decide to voluntary leave this world.

Another factor is human pride and self-honor. In some countries like Japan

and Korea honor is very important self perception, especially for men.

There is still a tradition of “hara-kiri”, voluntary self-destruction

because of failure to complete some family or social obligation. For men

who “failed” the cost of living with their “failure” was too high. They

couldn’t look into the eyes of people who they failed and the only solution

that was considered was “hara-kiri”. The benefit of escaping from shame

was so high that these men ( mostly soldiers- samurai) did not even think

about physical pain and pain of their friends and relatives. During war

times high ranked soldiers were given a chance to kill themselves in order

to save their honor and die like a hero.


Methods used to commit suicide vary on sex and regional bases.

E.g. death by firearms is more common in rural areas where the availability

of guns is higher.[9] People attempt to lower the cost of the actual

effort, thus use methods that are available to them immediately instead of

spending time and money and other resources. The most common non-fatal

suicide attempts in both sexes are drug overdoses and poisonings[10]. There

are differences in the spread of rate of suicide depending on age: The

facts about senior people are clear: the illnesses and loneliness, decline

of vital forces and absence of iridescent hopes better condition of a body

and spirit cause dramatic emotions "of socially active old age ". At this

age the choice is between battling an increasing avalanche of diseases and

illnesses or intentional death. Eventhough there are some benefits (e.g.

watching grandchildren grow), the cost of living is much higher. Thus the

tradeoff between life and death is not so large. Factors such as social

pressures, rejection of people in the same social group, e.g. classmates,

work partners, etc. are major causes of suicide among middle age and youth.

Young people can sometimes commit suicide just because of a disagreement

inside family.


1. “A handbook for the study of suicide” edited by Seymour Perlin. Oxford

University Press (1975)

2. “Suicide and Homicide” Andrew F. Henry and James F. Short Jr. The Free

Press, New York ( 1968)



avvy&terms=%2Bsuicide+%2Bfactors . The Study by the professors of the Ohio


4. www.religioustolerance.org Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

5. www.befrienders.org/info/statistics.htm . Befrienders International

Suicide Statistics

6. www.statcan.ca/english/Pgdb/People/Health/health01.html Suicides, and

suicide rate by sex and by age group at Statistics Canada.


[1] “A Handbook of the study of suicide” edited by Seymour Perlin, pg. 62

[2] Quoted from http://www.religioustolerance.org/sui_reli.htm

[3] “A Handbook of the study of suicide” edited by Seymour Perlin, pg. 22

[4] “A Handbook of the study of suicide” edited by Seymour Perlin, pg. 67

[5] Conclusions are based on the stories of “Ethan Frome”,

“Romeo and Juliet” and “The Sorrows of Young Werther”

[6] Information is taken from Ancient history books

[7] From:



Study by Ohio University




[9] www.religioustolerance.org

[10] www.religioustolerance.org


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