What are the correlates of suicide among blacks and whites? One body of literature suggests that structural factors such as poverty, inequality, joblessness, and family disruption are the key contributors, while another literature considers the availability of firearms to be the central factor. No studies have thoroughly explored both possibilities together and thus we know little about the relative contributions of motivation to commit suicide due to structural conditions and opportunity to commit suicide due to firearm availability. The current study addresses this issue.
Using suicide data from Mortality Multiple Cause of Death Records and 2000 Census data, we examine the roles of motivation and opportunity in shaping suicide rates among young white and young black males in U.S. cities.
We find racial differences in the predictors of suicide; although concentrated disadvantage directly affects suicide among young white males, it only raises levels for young black males by increasing access to firearms. This finding is confirmed in additional analyses, which examine the effects of concentrated disadvantage on black and white gun and nongun suicides separately.
The findings suggest complex relationships among the structural characteristics of cities, gun availability, and suicide. They also begin to address unresolved issues in the literature including why blacks have demonstrated comparatively lower rates of suicide despite higher levels of disadvantage as well as what may have fueled the increase in young black male suicide over the last 30 years. Finally, the findings have important implications for the study of race and suicide prevention.