A blog post

Is gender equality a benefit for men? The case of suicide

Posted on the 19 February, 2020 at 8:11 pm Written by in Research

Six years ago, in a paper called “What’s in it for men”, I published results from a new data base of 81 European countries and US states, showing that higher levels of gender equality were associated with better health for men, not just for women.

One noteworthy finding was that men’s rate of suicide, compared to women’s rate, was highest in the most gender-unequal countries and states. In other words, the idea that men are worse off, if women have more say, was distinctly disproven, in this (macro) evidence.

Some of the main findings are summarized in this graph, made from the data base:

See: Whats in it for men, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1097184X14558237

Now, a new US study points in the same direction. The study shows that “high–traditional masculinity men were 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide than non-HTM men”.

The study builds on a large health questionnaire that included masculinity-related items. High-traditional masculinity is an index based on items like “not crying, physically fit, not moody, not emotional, liking yourself, fighting, and risk taking”.  The survey included 20745 adolescents in 1995 and in 2014 was matched with death records using the National Death Index. This gave a sample of 22 suicides. The researchers claim that the HTM pattern is very clear, and outperformed other factors. HTM men  “were 1.45 times less likely to report. (..) There was no association between HTM and suicide attempts. High–traditional masculinity men were slightly more likely to report easy gun access (..) and had modestly lower depression levels.”


My 2014 paper, pointing to the connection between traditional gender, gender inequality and relatively higher suicide rates among men, is not referred to in the new study. They probably don’t know about it. Their independent conclusion is all the more interesting.

My evidence makes it probable that the relatively higher rate of male suicide in gender-unequal countries and states is related to traditional masculinities and male roles. Even if the HTM scale is only a proxy (somewhat debatable), it points towards a low level of gender equality in society.

This can be connected to statistics showing that men and women “attempt” suicide fairly equally – but that men actually go on and do it. There is no more attempted communication. This “gendered closure” is higher in countries with low levels of gender equality. The tendency cuts across different levels of economic progress and income equality. Gender equality is an independent factor, working on its own, according to the “Whats in it for men” macro data, as well as other studies.

Suicide statistics are also influenced by the availability of “effective/masculine” ways of ending one’s life, like firearms and a culture that enhances their use, and many other factors, that however also often have a gender aspect.

In sum, the evidence points to the potential of a substantial reduction of male over-suicide by gender-equal type of measures, e g focused on communication before the attempt, “don’t do it even if you try it” and curbing “macho” tendencies in suicide contexts.

If men had copied women’s more hesitant and communicative suicide patterns, rates would probably have been much lower.

However, we do not know how closely low gender equality in society and traditional masculinity among men are actually connected. Attempts to single out “traditional” or even “toxic” masculinity can be non-nuanced and counterproductive in some contexts.

Note that my macro data did NOT explain why suicide was higher or lower in gender equal countries. That analysis did not show a clear pattern. What DID show a clear pattern, was that the tendency of men to suicide more often than women, or the rate of “male over-suicide”, was clearly and strongly connected to low gender equality.

I would like to thank Kelly Fisher, MA student at my center, for the link to the new study.