Baby Boomer Suicides on the Rise
The baby boomers who once were hippies and flower children in the 1960s and 70s and protested for peace are now reaching retirement age and are killing themselves at unprecedented numbers.
"This is a striking new trend," says social demographer Julie Phillips. "Since the 1930s and up to the 1990s, suicide rates among middle-aged people – people aged 40 to 59 – were declining or pretty stable. But after 2000, this picture changed dramatically."
Increase of baby boomer suicide numbers requires attention
“We need to pay attention to this new increase in suicides, during a period of life previously thought to be stable and relatively protected from suicide, and in an age group now occupied by extraordinarily large numbers of people,” Phillips colleague Ellen Idler said,
Suicide rates for middle-aged people are increasing particularly for white men without college degrees and a combination of poor health and a poor economy may be driving it. "Male baby boomers have yet to reach old age, the period of the male life course at highest risk for suicide; if they continue to set historically high suicide rates as they did in adolescence and now in middle age, their rates in old age could be very high indeed, “ said researchers.
The researchers used suicide data from the National Center for Health Statistics and analyzed it by age group, marital status, education and other factors. The period they studied preceded the most recent economic crisis.
"Clinical studies often show that knowing someone who committed suicide is considered a risk factor for later doing it yourself, and that may be one factor here. The high rates in adolescence could actually be contributing to the high rates in middle age," researchers said.
Higher rates of substance abuse and the onset of chronic diseases are among other possible factors in the rising baby boomer suicide rate. "As children, the baby boomers were the healthiest cohort that had ever lived, due to the availability of antibiotics and vaccines. Chronic conditions could be more of a rude awakening for them in midlife than they were for earlier generations," said Idler.
In addition, unemployment rates in the U.S. rose between 2000 and 2003 at the same time that middle-aged suicide rates increased rapidly and rates of bankruptcy increased between 1991 and 2007.
And baby boomers are the least healthy middle-aged generation, with large rates of obesity and the diseases that result, such as diabetes and heart disease. "The percentage of those aged 45 to 64 years with multiple chronic diseases increased from 13 percent in 1996 to 22 percent in 2005, with a concomitant rise in out-of-pocket spending for health-care services," Phillips and Idler wrote.
Phillips said that a comprehensive study for the first decade of the new century won’t be possible until 2013 but that preliminary data for the years 2006 and 2007 shows the trends continuing.
This page is updated on May 13, 2013.