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Introduction

Above all things, it should be claimed that the principle purpose of the current study lies in the analysis of the economic theory of suicide represented by Daniel S. Hamermesh and Neal M. Soss. The research objectives should be formulated as follows: a). to clarify the strengths of the economic theory of suicide; b). to investigate the drawbacks and limitation of the economic theory of suicide. In order to conduct the precise and non-contradictory research the concept of suicide needs to be defined. Therefore, suicide should be grasped as a voluntary death caused by the deliberate human decision to cease his life (Durkheim, 1958).

Theory’s strengths

It should be taken into consideration that the economic theory of suicide elaborated by Hamermesh and Soss is grounded on a utility function which is defined by the permanent income and the current age of the individual (Lester & Yang, 1997, p. 59). Thus, the principle strength of the theory lies in purely economic approach to the phenomenon of suicide. In this connection, it might be appropriate to claim that the aforesaid phenomenon has already been explored by means of numerous sociological studies, whereas no economist before Hamermesh and Soss has conducted an investigation with regard to it.

Another benefit of economic studies by Hamermesh and Soss includes the researchers’ aspirations towards elaborating on a new economic theory of suicide in conjunction with some reliable sociological theories (Hamermesh & Soss, 1974, p. 84). It should be agreed with the authors that the economic factor plays the crucial role in interpreting the suicide because the economic needs make undeniable impact on individual decisions. Besides, the economic study elucidates that the frequency of suicide may increase with cyclical decreases in economic activity and fluctuations.

The researchers provide evidence that the positive correlation between suicide rates and unemployment in the United States before 1942 do exist. In view of the above, the rate of unemployment in the United States was 19.0 % in 1938, and 5.3 % in 1950 (“United States Unemployment Rate”). The authors’ convictions towards the unemployment should be substantiated with Richard Warner’s examinations. Thus, Warner (2004) reckons that the analysis of suicide patterns elucidates more evidence of the destructive effect of labor fluctuations and unemployment in particular (p. 51). The decrease in suicide rates has the direct nexus with the rate of unemployment.   

Drawbacks and limitations

Apart from the above, a mental note should be made that “An Economic Theory of Suicide” demonstrates a number of drawbacks and limitation. As far as the drawbacks are concerned, it should be conceded that the analyzed economic model of suicide consists of several components including the level of income, current age and taste for living (Lester & Yang, 1997, p. 59). Nevertheless, such components as the taste for living being purely mental or spiritual element should not be regarded as an economic attribute. Also, the component of age does not directly originate from the economic process.

Therefore, it is apparent that the authors’ utility function predominantly consists of sociological elements which make it less valuable as an economic theory. In the context of the theory’s limitations, it should be ascertained that the economic theory of suicide is directed towards the assessment of lifetime utility whereas the evaluation of such utility requires the application of the cognitive filter (McCain, 1992, p. 106). Hamermesh and Soss (1974) do not mention the necessity of applying the impulse-filtering model which is conceived to diminish the influences of biases. Another limitation of the economic theory of suicide lies in its appeal to insufficient evidence in respect of both rates of and preconditions to the suicide.

Hence, Hamermesh and Soss seem to be incapable to properly substantiate their theory due to the obvious lack of empirical data. However, it should be asserted that there is a large number of statistical data concerning suicide collected by national governments around the world. According to Simon W. Bowmaker (2005), the empirical data illustrate that the suicide rate tends to increase with age in many countries (p. 223). The aforesaid position correlates with the analysis conducted in “An Economic Theory of Suicide”, notwithstanding that the aforesaid statistical data is regarded by the authors of the economic model as insufficient.

Also, the researchers are chiefly preoccupied with the sociological and economic factors of suicide disregarding the mental prerequisites to it. It is apparent that there is a wide range of emotional and other psychological impulses which drives people to suicide. In accordance with some narrations, the depressive symptoms should be apprehended as the direct incentives to suicide as well (O’Connor, Platt and Gordon, 2011, p. 531).  Therefore, the economists’ evidence is utterly based on Durkheim’s arguments avoiding the explications of individual psychology and preferring the existence of society-level “suicidogenic currents” (Koppl, 2005, p. 302).

In contrast to Hamermesh and Soss, Durkheim expresses confidence that not the economic fluctuations available during the economic crisis in the United States but the decrease in general activity inherent to the period of depression have augmented the frequency of suicide (Pickering & Walford, 2000, p. 111). In this connection, it might be appropriate to acknowledge that Durkheim being cited by the economists opposes their suppositions regarding the economic factors of suicide.

Conclusion

After everything has been given due consideration, it is possible to arrive at a conclusion that the economic theory of suicide elaborated by Hamermesh and Soss needs to be supplemented by more precise and ubiquitous evidence in order to promote the level of its reliability.

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