Kevin Lewis

May 21, 2023

The Re-Emerging Suicide Crisis in the U.S.: Patterns, Causes and Solutions
Dave Marcotte & Benjamin Hansen
NBER Working Paper, May 2023 


The suicide rate in the United States has risen nearly 40 percent since 2000. This increase is puzzling because suicide rates had been falling for decades at the end of the 20th Century. In this paper, we review important facts about the changing rate of suicide. General trends miss the story of important differences across groups – suicide rates rose substantially among middle aged persons between 2005 and 2015 but have fallen since. Among young people, suicide rates began a rapid rise after 2010 that has not abated. We review empirical evidence to assess potential causes for recent changes in suicide rates. The economic hardship caused by the Great Recession played an important role in rising suicide among prime-aged Americans. We illustrate that the increase in the prevalence of depression among young people during the 2010s was so large it could explain nearly all the increase in suicide mortality among those under 25. Bullying victimization of LGBTQ youth could also account for part of the rise in suicide. The evidence that access to firearms or opioids are major drivers of recent suicide trends is less clear. We end by summarizing evidence on the most promising policies to reduce suicide mortality.

The Gender Well-being Gap
David Blanchflower & Alex Bryson
NBER Working Paper, May 2023 


Given recent controversies about the existence of a gender wellbeing gap we revisit the issue estimating gender differences across 55 subjective well-being metrics -- 37 positive affect and 18 negative affect -- contained in 8 cross-country surveys from 167 countries across the world, two US surveys covering multiple years and a survey for Canada. We find women score more highly than men on all negative affect measures and lower than men on all but three positive affect metrics, confirming a gender wellbeing gap. The gap is apparent across countries and time and is robust to the inclusion of exogenous covariates (age, age squared, time and location fixed effects). It is also robust to conditioning on a wider set of potentially endogenous variables. However, when one examines the three ‘global’ wellbeing metrics -- happiness, life satisfaction and Cantril’s Ladder -- women are either similar to or ‘happier’ than men. This finding is insensitive to which controls are included and varies little over time. The difference does not seem to arise from measurement or seasonality as the variables are taken from the same surveys and frequently measured in the same way. The concern here though is that this is inconsistent with objective data where men have lower life expectancy and are more likely to die from suicide, drug overdoses and other diseases. This is the true paradox -- morbidity doesn’t match mortality by gender. Women say they are less cheerful and calm, more depressed, and lonely, but happier and more satisfied with their lives, than men.

Genetic confounding in bullying research: Causal claims revisited
Charlotte Vrijen et al.
Development and Psychopathology, forthcoming 


Bullying research has shown repeatedly that victims of bullying have an increased risk for later internalizing problems and bullies have an increased risk for later externalizing problems. Bullying involvement is often, either explicitly or implicitly, presented as part of a causal mechanism for maladjustment. However, genetic vulnerability may confound the reported associations. This study examined to what extent genetic vulnerability can account for the reported associations between bullying involvement (age 11-14) and later internalizing and externalizing problems (age 16), using data from the TRacking Adolescents' Individual Lives Survey (n = 1604). Because polygenic scores capture only a fraction of the total genetic effect, they were extrapolated to the size of single-nucleotide polymorphism and twin heritability estimates to examine genetic confounding while controlling for (hypothetical) polygenic scores that fully capture the genetic effect. Genetic vulnerability for internalizing and externalizing problems confounded, respectively, the association between bullying victimization and later internalizing problems, and the association between bullying perpetration and later externalizing problems. As such, this study showcases a method that can be broadly used to assess the magnitude of genetic confounding. Caution is, however, warranted in interpreting particularly the less straightforward extrapolations of polygenic scores to the size of twin heritability estimates.

iGen or shyGen? Generational Differences in Shyness
Louis Schmidt et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming 


Generation Z (1997–2012) has been characterized in the popular media as more socially inhibited, cautious, and risk averse than prior generations, but are these differences found between generations on an empirical level? And, if so, are these differences observable within generations in response to acute events such as the COVID-19 pandemic? Using a simplified time-lagged design to control for age effects, we examined between-group differences in self-reported shyness in young adult participants (N = 806, age: 17–25 years) at the same developmental age and university from the millennial generation (tested: 1999–2001; n = 266, Mage = 19.67 years, 72.9% female) and Generation Z (tested: 2018–2020), the latter generation stratified into prepandemic (n = 263, M = 18.86 years, 82.4% female) and midpandemic (n = 277, Mage = 18.67 years, 79.6% female) groups. After first establishing measurement invariance to ensure trustworthy group comparisons, we found significantly higher mean levels of shyness across each successive cohort, starting with millennials, through Generation Z before the pandemic, to Generation Z during the pandemic.

Having Less Than Others is Physically Painful: Income Rank and Pain Around the World
Lucía Macchia
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming 


Physical pain is a pressing issue for scientists and policymakers. Yet evidence on the psychosocial factors of pain is limited. Using data from 146 countries (N = 1.3 million individuals), this article documents the role of income comparisons on physical pain. Specifically, this study shows that income rank (i.e., the ordinal position of a person’s income within a comparison group) is linked to physical pain above and beyond absolute income. This effect is identical in rich and poor nations. The negative emotions that result from a disadvantaged relative standing in the income hierarchy may explain these findings. This article documents a new kind of evidence on the power of income comparisons and highlights the role that psychosocial factors may play in physical pain.

Valuing Versus Having: The Contrary Roles of Valuing and Having Money and Prestige on Well-Being
Gabrielle Pfund et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming 


Using data from Midlife in the United States (N = 3,767), this study investigates how believing having money or occupational prestige is important for a good life is associated with different aspects of well-being. Actual income was positively associated with sense of purpose, personal growth, self-acceptance, environmental mastery, and life satisfaction; negatively associated with negative affect; and was not associated with autonomy, positive relations with others, or positive affect. Meanwhile, perceiving having enough money or extra money as important for a good life predicted poorer well-being across all nine well-being indicators. Occupational prestige was positively associated with sense of purpose, autonomy, personal growth, self-acceptance, environmental mastery, and life satisfaction, whereas perceiving having occupational prestige as important was negatively associated with autonomy, personal growth, self-acceptance, positive relations with others, and positively with negative affect. The discussion focuses on how desiring money or prestige can influence well-being beyond having -- or not having -- those desires.


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