For decades, U.S. boys have died by suicide far more frequently than girls, even though girls attempt suicide and report contemplating it more often. In the suicide prevention world, the phenomenon is known as the gender paradox.
The paradox still persists today—but new data published in JAMA Network Open suggest the gap between male and female youth suicide deaths is narrowing.
“What we’re seeing is alarming,” says study co-author Donna Ruch, a researcher with the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. “On top of the fact that females are thinking about suicide more and attempting suicide more, now they’re actually completing suicide.”
U.S. suicide rates are rising across age groups and demographics, and youth are no exception. But the uptick hasn’t been equal across genders. Starting in 2007, suicide rates for girls ages 10 to 14 began increasing annually by about 13%, compared to about 7% for boys, according to the new study. For teens ages 15 to 19, rates among girls and boys increased by about 8% and 3.5%, respectively, the new study says.
Suicide rates among teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2015, according to previous federal data. And in the process, the disparity between male and female suicide rates has lessened considerably, Ruch says. In 1975, boys ages 10 to 14 died by suicide 3.14 times more than girls, but by 2015, they died 1.8 times more often. For boys ages 15 to 19, those numbers dropped from 4.15 to 3.31 over the same time period.