State and Regional Suicide Rates

A New Look at an Old Puzzle

Residential stability and population density are examined in this article to help explain why suicide rates in the American West are higher than other regions of the United States.

Data from 2009 show the highest rate of suicide in Montana being 3.5 times greater than the lowest rate of suicide in New Jersey. Since the 19th century, the pattern of regional suicide rates has been highest in the West.

Using data from the 2000 U.S. Census, two measures were standardized and summed to gather data on residential stability: (1) percentage change in number of households between 1990 and 2000, and (2) the percentage of the population over the age of five who lived in the same house a year earlier. A Census measure of population per square mile was used to measure population density. The dependent variable was state suicide rates.

Key Finding:

  • The results indicate that the West has a higher rate of suicide in part due to its low level of residential stability.

Areas of high population turnover are said to also have weakened social ties and lower social integration, where marriage and religion are thus affected. The role that residential stability plays is an important piece to this centuries-old puzzle.

Learn more about how RWJF Health & Society Scholar Jason Houle worked to solve the riddle of the U.S. "suicide belt." Read the story

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Social Determinants of Health

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