In most countries suicide rates increase with age (Lester 1982). Schmidtke (1997) reported that globally most correlation coeffi cients between suicide rates and age are positive and signifi cant for both males and females. However, he noted that the co-variation in males in most countries is more pronounced. Lester (1982) found that for females the suicide rate distribution by age varied with the level of economic development of the country. He reported that for the wealthiest countries, female suicide rates peak in middle age; for poorer countries the peak shifts to elderly women; in the poorest nations, young adult women are at greatest risk of suicide (Lester 1982). Pritchard (1996) also found that there were increases in young male (aged under 35) and female suicides (25 to 34 year olds) as well as an excess of elderly female suicides in the majority of Western countries between 1974 and 1992. Data on the age composition of suicides in India have been become available only relatively recently. McLeod, for example, complained as early as 1878: ‘I have found it impossible to obtain any information regarding the age at which suicides are most common’ (McLeod 1878, 398). State-wise breakdowns by age and gender were fi rst reported in 1994; the information was then omitted for six years, being resumed in Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India from 2001 onwards.1 It is striking that in 1997 the suicide sex ratio increased monotonically with age, becoming more masculine with each increase (Table 8.1). By 2007, there was a discernible decline in the rate of over-60 female suicides leading to a fall in the suicide sex ratio. It can be seen that in 1997, in the ‘up to 14’ and ‘15 to 29’ age categories the suicide sex ratio was under one, indicating a higher female suicide rate in these categories; by 2007, this held only for the under 14 age group. Nonetheless, it is suggestive that male and female youth suicide rates in the ‘up to 14 years’ and ‘15 to 29’ groups have come down (Table 8.1). If this trend is sustained in future years, it may point to common factors at work in India as overseas where data indicate that a majority of nations experienced a decrease in female youth suicide rates in the 1980s (Lester 1997). Table 8.1 indicates that although for age categories 15-plus, the M/F ratio in 2007 was over 1, it was not especially high (2.96 was the highest, for the 45 to 59 age category).2 For males the peak ages for suicide are the 30 to 44 and 45 to 59
4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 Ta
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
study of suicide in Madras also found women between 15 and 20 years of age to be at greatest risk. The age distribution of suicide in India is in contrast with the typical age distribution for industrialised nations, which is highest among the elderly. Of particular note is that in every country, the male suicide rate is higher, and most of the time is considerably higher, than that for females (Diekstra 1989). A comparison of the average suicide rates3 in the eight developed countries that constitute the G-8 (Canada, France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US) with data for India is presented in Figure 8.1. It can be seen that the suicide pattern for India is quite different from these developed countries. In the developed countries the suicide rate increases with age for both sexes, reaching a peak in old age, whereas, as we have seen, in India the peak for male suicides is in the 30 to 59 age group and for women is in the 15 to 44 age group.