Rising Rates of Male Suicide Across Eurozone Connected to Austerity Measures

New research suggests that men of all ages committed suicide in increasing numbers in the eurozone's poorest countries as a direct result of austerity measures brought in across Europe following the 2009 recession.

A study published in Social Science and Medicine is the first to examine the direct impact of fiscal austerity on suicide rates in the group of countries most affected by the eurozone crisis—Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain—after controlling for other characteristics that might lead to suicide. The findings suggest that fiscal austerity, higher unemployment rates and negative economic growth led to significant increases in overall suicide rates in these countries.The researchers, from the UK's University of Portsmouth and Austria's Webster Vienna Private University, examined a drop in GDP, spendings cuts and the unemployment rate separately, in order to see their individual effect on the suicide mortality rate of different age groups for both men and women.

According to the research, every one percent fall in growth rate of GDP in these countries correlated with an average 0.9 percent increase in suicide rates in men across all ages, equating to over 6,000 male suicides in total over the period 2011-12 in these five countries. Alan Collins, a professor of economics at Portsmouth and one of the study's authors, says that the research focused on the period of time between 2011 and 2012 because it was an immediate "post-crisis" year when fiscal austerity packages were being implemented.

The researchers found that between 2011 and 2012, among males aged 10-24, there were 580 suicides as a result of a drop in GDP (equating to a 1.6 percent overall increase in male suicides in that age range), 2,995 suicides among males ags 25-44 (a 1.4 percent increase), 765 suicides among males age 45-65 (a 0.4 percent increase) and 1,725 suicides among males age 65-89 (a 1.3 per cent increase).

When looking at the effect of spending cuts alone, however, the researchers found that the male population most heavily affected is those between the ages of 65 and 89, with 2,325 men in this age bracket having committed suicide due to spending cuts between the years 2011 and 2012. The research also found that these cuts led to 4,555 male suicides in the 65-89 age bracket between 2009 and 2014, suggesting medium- to long-lasting effects of fiscal austerity on suicides.

The report says this is most likely due to the fact that "the oldest age groups are naturally likely to be more inflexible following implementation of any fiscal austerity that would reduce their incomes (especially from pensions). Younger segments of the population affected by fiscal austerity measures have a wider range of perceived opportunities beyond suicide."

The study also explored the effect of unemployment on the suicide rate, and concluded that it is one of the main causes of youth suicides in the countries studied. A one percent increase in these five countries' unemployment rates led to, on average, a 1.48 percent increase in suicide rates in that age group. This equates to an additional 175 suicides in the 10-24 age group between 2011 and 2012.

The report also noted that fiscal austerity did not seem to have as significant an impact on female suicide rates. For every 1 percent reduction in government spending in the countries studied, the suicide rate of the female population between the ages of 25 and 44 was found to have risen by 0.72 percent—but females in all the other age groups seem to be resilient to fiscal austerity.

"One reason for this outcome is that often men feel a greater sense of betrayal than women, as often they are the primary source of income," says Nikolaos Antonakakis, a professor of economics at Vienna and a lecturer of Portsmouth, and one of the study's authors.

Antonakakis and Collins conducted similar research last year, when they looked specifically at the relationship between the suicide rate in Greece and the economic crisis. According to that research, every 1 percent fall in government spending in Greece led to a 0.43 percent rise in suicides among men; they found that that 551 men killed themselves "solely because of fiscal austerity" between 2009 and 2010.

Antonakakis says that the pair became interested in the effects of austerity on the suicide rate as a result of hearing increasing reports of deprivation and suicides in Greece. "We have heard so many things about austerity but we only hear about the decisions being made in the eurozone, while the humanitarian effects have been left to one side," he says. "What was most surprising about this research is the fact that we found similar evidence as we found in Greece, to other countries that have applied austerity. This is very disturbing and frightening."

He continues: "The next question is to look to see if the picture is generalised and to include all European countries and distinguish between those that applied austerity and those that did not, and see if there is a distinction between the two. That would reveal the complete picture."