A “Harsh” Culture, Alcoholism, Climate, and Social Hardship Explain National Differences in Suicide Rates

Michael MINKOV*, Anneli KAASA, Plamen AKALIYSKI, Michael SCHACHNER

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Suicide is a major cause of death in Central and Northeast Europe and Northeast Asia. The literature on this geographic pattern has not reached consensus. The authors propose an analysis of the view that national culture may be a risk factor. They use measures of culture from a quasi-nationally representative 2015-2016 database, with over 50,000 respondents from 53 countries, and WHO suicide data for 2016. A correlation analysis across items reveals four cultural features of countries with high suicide rates (r with suicide rates >.40): parents are less likely to socialize children for helping, sharing money, forgiving offenses, and expressing feelings. These four items yield a single “harshness” factor (r with national suicide rates = .69). Measures of self-construals reveal that people in countries with high suicide rates are less helpful, generous, and forgiving, have less interest in others, lower personal stability, poorer mood, lower self-esteem and self-confidence, and use less deliberation before important decisions (r with suicide rates > .40). These items yield another “harsh culture” factor, strongly correlated with the previous. Harsh culture, alcoholism rates, climatic harshness, and social hardship (short life expectancy plus child and maternal mortality), explain 71 percent of the national variation in suicide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-63
Number of pages21
JournalComparative Sociology
Issue number1
Early online date7 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The first and second author were supported by the Estonian Research Council grant PRG380. The first author was also supported by the Basic Research Program at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russian Federation.

Publisher Copyright:
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2022


  • alcoholism
  • climate
  • culture
  • social hardship
  • suicide


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