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In this lesson, we will focus on the research conducted by Emile Durkheim regarding the rate of suicide and social factors that may contribute to suicide.

Emile Durkheim’s Research on Suicide

The World Health Organization estimates that one million people commit suicide every year.
Suicide Rates

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated one million individuals commit suicide every year.

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Over 100 years ago, sociologist Emile Durkheim researched the rate of suicide within his own country of France, as well as England and Denmark. In his research, Durkheim stated that while suicide was a solitary act, the causes had significant links to various social factors.

Durkheim’s Explanation of Suicide Using Social Context

When Emile Durkheim researched the rates of suicide in various countries in 1869, he was not concerned so much with the personality traits of the individuals who committed such an act, but was looking more at the rate of suicide per country. He wanted to find common social links in the differing countries that would influence a higher or lower rate of suicide. Basically, he wanted to study each country’s beliefs, values, norms, and traditions to see if these social factors influenced the rate of suicide.

When looking at the rate of suicide in the three countries, Durkheim looked at the number of suicides per million inhabitants. He found that England had 67 suicides per million, France had 135 and Denmark had 277 per million.His question then was, ‘Why did Denmark have such a comparatively high rate of reported suicide?’ To answer this question, Durkheim looked at, not the beliefs of why someone commits suicide, but at the social factors that may influence a person to commit suicide. He focused on the level of:

  1. Cohesiveness within a society
  2. A person’s standing within the society
  3. A person’s standing within the religious, social and occupational groups of the society

Durkheim found that while the act of committing suicide is an individual act, it is directly connected to the group and social life of the individual.

Categories of People and Rates of Suicide

A person with high levels of integration is less likely to commit suicide.
Wealthy people are more likely to commit suicide than are people with modest or low incomes.
Wealth and Suicide

Like many other social scientists, Emile Durkheim developed a theory to explain how someone’s individual behavior can be seen and understood within a social context.

Durkheim’s theory helped to take this solitary act and allow people to expand it to see a connection with the larger society by pointing out the influence of groups and social forces on individuals. His theory, then, has predictive powers in that one can look at certain social and economic changes and predict if rates of suicide will rise or fall.

Lesson Summary

Emile Durkheim was a sociologist who researched the act of suicide within the countries of France, England, and Denmark. He focused not on the individual characteristics of the people who commit such an act, but the varying social factors that influence people to commit suicide. He discovered that various categories of people will have a higher or lower chance of committing suicide based upon social and economic factors.Durkheim felt that the level of integration also had a direct influence on the rate of suicide for an individual.

Emile Durkheim’s research helped to explain suicide in a social context, as well as act as a predictive agent in determining the levels of suicide based upon changes within groups and society.

Learning Outcomes

After you’ve finished this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe Emile Durkheim’s research on suicide
  • Summarize the social factors that Durkheim proposed affect the rate of suicide
  • Determine the relative suicide rates for different categories of people within society
  • Explain how Durkheim’s research on suicide can help us predict levels of suicide in a society based on social and economic changes

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