One of the most consistent fi ndings in suicide research emerged from the earliest studies in Europe: males are more likely than females to take their own lives. Enrico Morselli, the great Italian psychologist of the late nineteenth century observed:
It was evident from the fi rst attempt at comparative statistics that suicide is much more frequent amongst men than amongst women. In every country the proportion is 1 woman to 3 or 4 men, as in crime it is also 1 to 4 or 5. [Emphasis in original]
Durkheim, following in the same tradition, declared suicide to be ‘an essentially male phenomenon’ (1951: 72).1 Let us now consider the overall national differences in Indian male and female suicides. Over the period 1967-2007 the average suicide rate for females was 7.0; for males it was 9.9. In general, suicide rates for men and women have tended to fall and rise in tandem, as shown by the nearly invariant suicide sex ratio line (average = 1.40) in Figure 7.1. The fi rst signs of divergence have appeared since 2000 when female suicide rates have fallen slightly while male rates have continued to increase. Over this period, the average male suicide rate was just under 9 per 100,000 (Table 7.3) and the female rate was 6.6. Over approximately the same period (1965-1995), the average global suicide rate for males was 21.6. Thus the average male rate in India was about 40 per cent of the international average rate for men. By contrast, the Indian female rate was nearly 90 per cent of the global average rate for females (7.4). These differences are summarised in differences in the male-female suicide ratios (the suicide sex ratio). At the global level, men were almost three times more likely to take their own lives as females. In India the differences are much narrower, with 1.4 male to every female suicide. The distinctiveness of the gender pattern of Indian suicides is highlighted when we compare it with that found in a number of other nations (Table 7.4). In industrialised Anglophone countries such as Australia, Canada, the UK and the US, suicide sex ratios range from 3.4 to 4.4. In the countries of the Russian Federation,
4 5 6 7 8 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 4
where male suicide rates are extremely high, the suicide sex ratio is over fi ve to one. In Sri Lanka, the only other south Asian country for which the WHO provides data, male suicides exceed those for females by nearly three to one. Singapore, which has a sizeable minority of Indian descent, and Fiji, a major part of whose population is also of Indian descent, have suicide sex ratios quite similar to that found in India itself. Only in China, as already noted, do female suicides exceed those for males. These results support Lester’s claim that females in Asian countries tend to kill themselves at a proportionately higher rate (Lester 1982). This phenomenon may well be related to the awareness of women’s rights, women’s dependency on men and women’s social status. As a result of their subordinate position, women may experience high levels of stress that are intensifi ed by family structures in Asian societies such as India. It may also be due to the use of more lethal methods such as the ingestion of highly toxic pesticides in Asia. The Indian pattern of near parity in suicide rates between males and females appears to be relatively distinctive in the global context.