About half of all
American marriages end in divorce.
It is well-known that divorce increases
men's risk of suicide. Three studies
have documented this phenomenon:
1. One study from
the Centers for Disease Control analyzed
suicides among elderly persons. The
study found that in 1992, the rate
for divorced/widowed men aged 65 years
was more than 17 times that of married
women. The report concluded, "Sex
and marital status-specific suicide
rates were highest for divorced/widowed
2. Rogers analyzed
the effects of marriage on persons
who died in 1986. He found that men
who were divorced or separated had
a far greater risk of suicide (odds
ratio = 6.1) than divorced or separated
3. Kposowa used a
large, nationally-representative database
to analyze the effects of marital
status on suicide risk. He found that
divorced men were more than twice
as likely to commit suicide as married
men (3), and almost 10 times more
likely to kill themselves as divorced
Based on Kposowa's
research, it is possible to tally
the number of divorced men in the
United States who take their own lives.
These calculations reveal that each
year, more than 3,600 divorced men
-- about 10 every day -- commit suicide
This figure is likely
to be an underestimate because it
does not include never-married men
who had children and later lost custody,
nor does it account for previously-divorced
men who later remarried. Also, just
because a man commits suicide while
he is divorced does not necessarily
mean he killed himself because of
the divorce -- other factors no doubt
play a role.
Loss of Child Custody
and Suicide Risk-- Eighty-six percent
of men have at least one child during
their lifetimes (6). Using the 50%
divorce rate figure, and knowing that
fathers lose custody of their children
about 80% of the time, it can be calculated
that about 34% of American men will
experience the loss of child custody
sometime during their lives (7).
It is well-known
that noncustodial fathers often experience
high levels of psychological distress.
Social scientists have made observations
such as these:
that postdivorce visits with children
"can lead to depression and sorrow
in men who love their children"
--Ross observed that
many divorced fathers are "overwhelmed
by feelings of failure and self-hatred,"
and as a result are "disengaging
from a family that is no longer really
--Umberson and Williams
highlighted the sense of failure that
these fathers experience. As a result,
these men "exhibit substantially
higher rates of psychological distress
and alcohol consumption than do married
non-custodial fathers in this way:
"These men are very angry. Indeed,
their white-hot sense of injustice
can sometimes produce in them the
phenomenon of pressured speech, in
which emotional intensity derails
normal conversational rhythms."
So given the frequency
and gravity of the problem, it is
not surprising that numerous anecdotes
have appeared in the popular press
detailing non-custodial fathers who
have resorted to killing themselves
or others (12, 13).
A Cruel Irony
Over the past 20
years, society has admonished fathers
to become more attentive to their
families. As more wives entered the
workforce, this relieved some of the
financial pressure on men, and has
allowed fathers to devote more time
to their children.
And during that same
period of time, a series of laws have
been enacted that have enabled wives
to obtain court orders to exclude
fathers from the household, in the
name of preventing domestic violence.
Once a precedent of paternal separation
has been established, child custody
is almost always awarded to the mother.
Hence, these domestic
violence edicts have made it more
difficult for fathers to maintain
meaningful involvement with their
children. In some cases, their own
children have come to view their loving
fathers with suspicion and distrust.
So noncustodial fathers
have become increasingly frustrated
and angered by the mixed messages
that they are receiving. They find
it incomprehensible that their basic
human right to be a parent is being
curtailed by a legal system that they
perceive to be expensive, cloaked
in secrecy, and unfair.
Is it any wonder
that some fathers crack under the
1. Centers for Disease
Control: Suicide among Older Persons,
United States, 1980-1992. Morbidity
and Mortality Weekly Report, January
2. Rogers RG. Marriage,
sex, and mortality. J Marriage and
the Family 1995; 57: 515-526.
3. Kposowa AJ. Marital
status and suicide in the National
Longitudinal Mortality Study. Journal
of Epidemiology and Community Health
2000; 54: 254-261.
4. Reported in Farrell
W. Father and Child Reunion. New York:
Jeremy Tarcher, 2001, p. 259, footnote
a. Female crude suicide
rate in 1998: 4.4/100,000 (Health,
United States, 2000, Table 47)
b. Increased risk
of suicide among divorced men, compared
to all women: 9.94 times (see reference
c. Suicide rate among
divorced men: 4.4/100,000 x 9.94 =
43.7 suicides per 100,000 divorced
d. Total number of
divorced men in the United States
in 1998: 8,322,000
(U.S. Census Bureau:
Statistical Abstract of the United
States, 1999, Table 63)
e. Number of divorced
men who committed suicide in 1998:
(43.7 x 8,322,000) divided by 100,000
6. Bachu A. Fertility
of American Men. Population Division
Working Paper No. 14. Washington,
DC: Bureau of the Census, March 1996.
7. Calculation: .86
x .5 x .8 = .344 = 34.4%
8. Wallerstein JS,
Blakeslee S. Second Chances: Men,
Women, and Children a Decade after
Divorce. New York: Ticknor and Fields,
1989, p. 235.
9. Umberson D, Williams
CL. Divorced fathers: Parental role
strain and psychological distress.
J Family Issues 1993; 14: 385-378.
10. Ross JM. The
Male Paradox. New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1992, pp. 154-157.>11.
Blankenhorn D. Fatherless America:
Confronting our Most Urgent Social
Problem. New York: HarperPerennial.
1995, p. 161.
12. Divorced fathers
snap under pressure. Washington Times
November 25, 2002, p. A7.
13. Study: Young
white men face higher suicide risk.
Indianapolis Star, November 23, 2002,