Does declining marriage explain rising suicide rates for old men, too? (Trick question.)
The reason it's a trick question is that, for older men suicide rates aren't rising—even though their marriage rates are falling. This doesn't fit the story spun by Brad Wilcox here at The Atlantic and broadcast by Ross Douthat in the New York Times.
The government reported this month that the suicide rate for adults ages 35 to 64 increased 28 percent from 1999 to 2010. That's a serious problem. Oddly, though, the report didn't include data on those over age 64 or under 35. Why? Because the rates didn't change significantly for those groups. That's a fine reason for the report to focus on the other groups, but the pontificators shouldn't let that blind them to the overall story (and longer trends).
The suicide rate for people age 65-plus dropped 5.9 percent during that period, but that was significant only at the 9 percent confidence level. In the longer run, though, the drop in suicide rates for older people is certainly significant. Here is the trend from 1991 to 2009 for men, by age:
From 1991 to 2009, the suicide rate among older men dropped more than 25 percent, from 40 to 29 per 100,000 people. During that time, suicide for middle-aged men dropped and then rose again, ending up within a point of where it started the period. So the two-decade story is not one of increasing middle-aged male suicide (at least not yet). And, of course, during that time marriage dropped for all three groups.