Less is More
Since the end of the 1980s (when the socialist system collapsed), the suicide rate in Hungary, which until that point had been the highest in the world for decades, has decreased drastically. The steady improvement in the trend was not affected by the socio-economic shocks in the early 1990s and was only slightly halted by the 2008 financial crisis. What have been the main reasons for this persistent improvement? In a study published in PLoS ONE, Lajos Balint (Hungarian Demographic Research Institute and University of Pécs), Katalin Fuzer (University of Pécs), Xenia Gonda and Péter Döme (Semmelweis University and Nyiro Gyula National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions) assessed the contribution of changes in socio-demographic factors in the decrease of the suicide rate in Hungary.
The authors used data from the Demographic/Vital Register ('DEMO') of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office ('HCSO'). Their results point towards the key role played by two major changes in population structure, namely an increase in the proportion of people with a high level of education (with lower risks for suicide) and of unmarried individuals (with higher risks for suicide). Concretely, the improvement of educational attainment helped to decrease the rate for men by about a third, while for women by only about a tenth. However, these beneficial effects were outweighed, completely for women and partly for men, by changes in marital status due to the number of unmarried and divorced individuals increasing among men and women.
These findings support the hypothesis that policies promoting higher educational attainment among a population can be taken as an indirect health policy, but other factors that counterbalance this positive effect, such as marital status, cannot be ignored.