The Politics of Suicide in Post-Christian America
I recently discovered a depressing statistic. While analyzing data from the World Bank, I learned that the U.S. was among the 10 countries that experienced the largest increase in the number of reported suicides throughout the 2005-2015 period, from 11.7 to 14.3 per 100,000 people. There is no shortage of possible causes to which one could attribute this 22 percent increase. As a political scientist who studies the intersections between faith and politics, I was naturally curious about (a) whether religious decline in the U.S. could be among the plausible explanations, and, if so, (b) what political factors might account for this decline.
According to a report by the Pew Research Center, between 2007 and 2014 the percentage of religiously unaffiliated adults increased by nearly seven points, from 16.1 to 22.8 percent of the population. At this rate, “nones” will become a majority by 2043, just one generation from now. In an effort to determine whether trends like this carry negative mental-health implications, I compared changes in countries’ suicide mortality rates between 2005 and 2015 with changes in theistic belief — i.e., belief in God’s existence — using figures from the third and fourth waves of the World Values Survey (covering the periods of 1999-2004 and 2010-2014, respectively), a cross-national time series investigation of beliefs and values.
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