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Research from UCR Sociologist Shows Divorce Doubles Risk of Suicide in Men

Research from UCR Sociologist Shows Divorce Doubles Risk of Suicide in Men

(March 15, 2000)

Divorced and separated men are twice as likely to commit suicide as men who are still in a relationship. Those are the findings of research published today (Wednesday, March 15) by a sociologist from the University of California, Riverside.

They are also more likely to end their own lives than are women who are divorced or separated, said Augustine Kposowa, an associate professor of sociology at UCR. In fact, divorce was not a significant factor in suicide among women.

His research, called "Marital Status and Suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study," is included in the current edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Kposowa analyzed the cause of death of nearly 472,000 men and women over nine years. At the end of that time 432 men and 113 women had committed suicide.

The link between the end of a marriage and suicide was strongest among men, who were more than twice as likely to commit suicide as married men and more than four times as likely to kill themselves as women. The results held true even after adjusting for other factors long implicated in suicide risk, such as age, income, and level of education.

Among women, age seemed to be more closely related to suicide than marital status, with suicide rates higher for women over 65.

Race also seemed to be important, with 50 per cent more white than black men committing suicide during the nine years of follow-up. Living in the Western U.S. carried the highest risk of suicide, Kposowa said, with Nevada leading all others states in the frequency of suicides, with a rate of 24.1 suicides per 100,000 population. Wyoming follows Nevada, with a rate of 20.0 per 100,000 population.

The reasons behind the statistics are still emerging and will need further study. Kposowa suggests that women may cope better with divorce than men because they are more likely to have supportive networks of friends and family in their lives.

"Part of the difference between male and female suicide rates stemming from divorce may also be due to changes in the court system whereby men perceive that they have lost a lot in a divorce settlement: house, alimony, child support, etc., and consequently, cannot cope with the resulting stress," Kposowa said.

The data was collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in collaboration with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Center for Heath Statistics. Mortality rates come from the National Death Index, established in 1979, which tracks mortality information on the U.S. population. Kposowa spent a year analyzing the data, which reflects suicides between 1979 and 1989.

"In future work, I intend to investigate more fully the possible contribution of divorce settlements to increased suicide risk in men," Kposowa said. "Another area of interest is to examine the number and quality of relationships in women and men, and the connection to suicide risk."

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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