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“Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow”: The impact of the 1980s farm crisis on suicide in rural America

William Alex Pridemore, Dean and Professor
School of Criminal Justice
University at Albany – State University of New York
MLC 213

Presenter: William Alex Pridemore, Dean and Professor, School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany – State University of New York


This study examines the impact of the 1980s farm crisis on rural suicide rates. Research consistently identifies a link between economic crises and negative psychological sequelae at the individual level, and several studies show that economic and other crises are sometimes accompanied by population-level increases in suicide rates. We used monthly suicide data from 1973 to 1996 from the National Center for Health Statistics, calculating male- and female-specific suicide rates for six geographic groups: Midwest rural farming-dependent counties, all counties, all non-rural counties, all rural counties, non-farming-dependent rural counties, and all farming-dependent rural counties. We employed autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) interrupted time series techniques to model the direction, size, and functional form of any impact of the farm crisis on monthly suicide rates. The results showed that beginning in January 1980 there was an immediate and permanent increase of about 2.6 suicides per month for the treatment group of males in Midwest rural farming-dependent counties (ω0 = -2.59, p = .01). This represents a 10% increase over pre-crisis levels. There were no positive effects of the farm crisis on any of the 11 control groups. The results of this study have important implications for the study of economic crises and other types of catastrophic events on population-level suicide mortality and for the unique structural organization of rural America, its economic basis, and the potentially unique qualities of the culture of rural environments.  

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