Among the very earliest observations made by observers in Europe about the social characteristics of suicide was that different occupational groups were at very different levels of risk. At one pole were agriculturalists (who were also, of course, largely residents of rural districts) and at another were the most highly educated and trained members of society, such as lawyers, doctors and civil servants. Morselli found that in Italy between 1866 and 1876 those employed in the ‘letters and science’ professions had exceptionally high suicide rates of 61.83 per 100,000 (Morselli 1881: 244). Italian civil servants (all male) had a suicide rate of 32.43. Those ‘classes addicted to agriculture, pastoral life [and] forestry’ had very low suicide rates (2.5) (Morselli 1881: 243). In a recent review of research on occupations and suicide, Stack notes that studies are ‘often marked by inconsistent fi ndings’ (2001: 384) with different studies reporting high, medium or low risk of suicide for the same occupational groups. Stack also notes that i) ‘the link between occupation and suicide is not well understood’, ii) ‘suicide rates are not available for most occupations’ and, iii) ‘many of the studies do not address female suicide risk’ (Stack 2001: 385). Much may depend upon the historical period being studied or the nature of the economy of the country under investigation. Thus, while many early studies such as Morselli’s reported low suicide rates amongst European farmers, many more recent studies report relatively high suicide rates for farmers (for example, Schroeder and Beegle 1953; Capstick 1960; Booth and Lloyd 1999; Malmberg, Simpkin et al. 1999). In a case control study of suicides in the UK, Charlton found elevated relative risk of suicide in some occupations for men such as veterinarian, pharmacist, dentist, farmer and doctor, and for women, such as veterinarian and doctor (Charlton 1995: S51-52). In a study of suicide in Australia, Hassan reported elevated suicide rates among men in agriculture, sales, those in trades and in transport and communication (Hassan 1995: 102). He observes:
The general pattern, as far as men are concerned, appears to be that those in blue-collar occupations which are also characterized by less job autonomy, greater external supervision, less on-the-job training, poorer promotion
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
(Hassan 1995: 103)
In a logistic regression study which controlled for the major demographic covariates of occupation, Stack found that dentists, doctors, mathematicians, scientists and artists were at elevated risk of suicide, as were machinists, auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders and labourers. Occupations in which there was a low risk of suicide were primary school teachers and postal workers (Stack 2001: 391). Despite his fi nding of high suicide risk amongst dentists and doctors, Stack offers a summary ‘rule of thumb’ from the existing literature concerning occupational risk of suicide:
Generally speaking, there is an inverse relationship between occupational prestige and the risk of suicide.