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Suicide and political regime in New South Wales and Australia during the 20th century

Suicide rises under conservative rule.

Alienation may run higher in societies driven by competitive market forces. Credit: © Getty Images

A nation's suicide rate increases under right-wing governments according two studies that have looked at Australia and Britain over the past century.

Alienation and isolation may run higher in societies driven by competitive market forces, suggest the teams behind the findings. Left-wing rule, focusing more on equality, might put people under less pressure.

Governments should consider their role in public health beyond spending, says social scientist Mary Shaw of the University of Bristol, UK. "We need to look not just at the immediate biomedical factors affecting health, but also how we organize society," she says.

In New South Wales, Australia, suicides soared when federal and state governments were Conservative, a team at the University of Sydney has found1. They were lowest when the Labour Party ruled both.

The researchers accounted for the effects of drought, both world wars, and the availability of sedatives. Even so, men and women were 17 and 40 per cent more likely to take their own lives, respectively, with conservatives in power.

Women may be more sensitive to social change, says Shaw. She and her colleagues carried out a less extensive analysis for Britain2that gave "uncannily similar" results.

In total, there were 35,000 extra British suicides under the Conservatives. "One for every day of the century, or two for every day that the Conservatives ruled," Shaw points out.

The results are unsurprising, says Cary Cooper, a psychologist at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, UK. Poorer social support and higher job insecurity may drive more to suicide under conservative regimes, he says.

"However," Cooper adds, "political parties now are not so distinct." He predicts that with the political gulf between parties narrowing, the suicide gap "will close quite dramatically in the next 50 years".


  1. Page, A., Morrell, S. & Taylor, R. Suicide and political regime in New South Wales and Australia during the 20th century. J Epidemiol Community Health, 56, 766 - 772, (2002).

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  2. Shaw, M., Dorling, D. & Davey Smith, G. Mortality and political climate: how suicide rates have risen during periods of Conservative government, 1901-2000. J Epidemiol Community Health, 56, 723 - 725, (2002).

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Suicide and political regime in New South Wales and Australia during the 20th century. Nature (2002).

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