According to the Centers for Disease Control middle aged American men are increasingly committing suicide.
Tara Parker-Pope reports the findings:
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.
To explain what is happening, W. Bradford Wilcox turns to an idea that French sociologist Emile Durkheim offered over a century ago:
The geographic caste of suicide underlines the communitarian argument made by Emile Durkheim in his classic work, Suicide. Durkheim stressed that men (note that men kill themselves at much higher rates than do women) are more likely to commit suicide when they get disconnected from society's core institutions (e.g., marriage, religion) or when their economic prospects take a dive (e.g., unemployment). So, men are more likely to thrive and survive when they have a job, a wife, and a community connection to a church or some other group that grounds their lives.
Wilcox does not say it, but Durkheim called this social disconnection: anomie.
I will add that Durkheim did not see anomie as the only cause of suicide. He also identified egotistical and altruistic motives, that is, asserting one’s own self-importance and believing that one is doing the world a favor.
But anomie is probably the more important reason for the spike in the middle class male suicide rate.
Anomie befalls people when they are cut off from social institutions, when they no longer have a defined role and purpose in society, when they do not know who they are and do not know where or whether they belong.
The condition is less likely to touch college graduates than it is to affect non-college graduates.
Contributing factors are, first, unemployment. Wilcox writes:
Given that one study found that unemployed men were 126 percent more likely to kill themselves, the deteriorating economic fortunes of poor and working-class men have likely played a key role in the recent spike in suicide among middle-aged men without college degrees.
And many of the men who commit suicide are unmarried:
… unmarried men are about 240 percent more likely to kill themselves, compared to their married peers. Thus, in all likelihood, the nation's dramatic retreat from marriage among less-educated men in recent years has also had a hand in rising rates of suicide among this group of men.
It’s not difficult to see what is going on. Men who have no place in society, who do not feel like they belong and who cannot fulfill the duties that inhere in traditional male roles, like breadwinner, protector and provider are more likely to commit suicide.
Interestingly, the problem seems most prevalent in the baby boomer generation. Males in a generation that came of age during the heady 1960s are now increasingly likely to feel lost and suicidal.
Men whose values and attitudes were formed by the Vietnam counterculture, who made love not war, and who reveled in their liberation from the constricting social rules and roles that had afflicted previous generations… these men are in serious trouble.