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Social Causation or Social Construction of Suicide? An Investigation into the Social Organization of Official Rates

Bernice A. Pescosolido and Robert Mendelsohn
American Sociological Review
Vol. 51, No. 1 (Feb., 1986), pp. 80-100
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095479
Page Count: 21
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Social Causation or Social Construction of Suicide? An Investigation into the Social Organization of Official Rates
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Abstract

In this paper, we integrate two vital but independent avenues of research on suicide. Quantitative studies in sociology, using official statistics to test hypotheses, focus on the effects of urbanization, religious affiliation and other reasons why individuals commit suicide. Observational studies examine legal, organizational and professional factors that lead to misclassifying suspicious deaths, but they fail to consider their effects on the causes of suicide. Surprisingly, no study has examined whether the social construction of rates biases attempts to test sociological theories of the cause of suicide. We attempt to bridge this gap by organizing criticisms of suicide rates theoretically, framing them in a measurement error model, and introducing a number of techniques to control for misreporting and "correct" official rates. Using several independently collected data sets for county groups (N=404) in the United States for 1970-71, we find that systematic misreporting exists. However, misreporting in the official statistics has little discernible impact on the effects of variables commonly used to test sociological theories of suicide. Our results suggest a number of theoretical refinements necessary for pursuing further quantitative and qualitative studies of suicide.

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