Divorce and Suicide: Evidence from Turkish Provinces

Aksoy T., Yerlikaya B.

19th International Conference of MEEA, İstanbul, Turkey, 9 - 11 October 2020

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Unpublished
  • City: İstanbul
  • Country: Turkey
  • Yıldız Technical University Affiliated: Yes


In his seminal work, published more than a century ago, Durkheim (1897) argued that the suicide rate in a society is determined by social regulation and social integration. Social regulation refers to the level to which an individual’s life is governed by traditions and norms.  Social integration is expressed as relationships that ensure loyalty and commitment to the moral norms of the society to which the individual feels connected. Thus, as social integration increases among the individuals who make up the society, the sense of commitment increases. Considering the regulatory and integration features of the marriage institution, divorce can be taken as an indicator of social isolation in Durkheim's analysis (Stack 1990). Hamermesh and Soss (1974) develops another theoretical framework for the study of suicide through economic channels. They argue that individual will commit suicide when the total remaining discounted lifetime utility reaches zero or falls under a particular value of death. In this regard, a negative shock, such as divorce, may decrease the expected utility and make committing suicide an optimal decision. In Durkheim’s perspective, divorce disintegrates the ties of the individual to the family/society and increases the probability of suicide.

Based on the theory of social integration (Durkheim, 1897) and lifetime utility maximization (Hamermesh and Soss, 1974), a vast body of research has emerged in economics interested in suicide. For instance, Ross et al. (2012) argue that divorce is not significantly related to suicide in the US. In contrast, Minoiu and Andres (2008) find positive association between divorce and suicide across US regions. Moreover, their results indicate that the impact of divorce on suicide is higher for females than males. Considering Japan, Yamamura (2010) shows that divorce is positively related to the suicide rate, with a larger effect on males than females. Two studies, Detotto and Sterzi (2013) and Bussu et al. (2013) argue that divorce has insignificant effect on suicide in Italy. In Canada, Jalles and Andresen (2015) find no evidence of any relationship between divorce and suicide. In a similar vein, Huikari and Korhonen (2016) suggest that divorce is insignificantly related to suicide in Finland during 1991-2011.

The aim of this paper is to empirically examine the relationship between divorce and suicide in Turkey. To that end, we employ regional data at the Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics (NUTS)-3 level for the period 2008-2017. Employing two-way fixed effects panel data analysis, we find that divorce has statistically significant positive effect on suicide. Moreover, this effect differs across genders, age groups, and education levels. The effect of divorce on suicide rate is greater for males than females. Further, we find that the coefficient estimate of divorce on suicide is smaller for the prime working age group. Although there seems to be no significant relationship between economic indicators and suicide, we find that divorce is the channel though which income and unemployment affect suicide. Accordingly, the impact of divorce on suicide is disproportionally greater in provinces with lower income per capita and higher unemployment rate. In addition, we argue that divorce increases skilled male suicide rate and unskilled female rate, suggesting the importance of education.  Finally, results show that human capital is negatively related to male suicide, whereas there exists a positive relationship between population density and female suicide in Turkey.