The Baby Boomers - the generation born after the Second World War, who were hippies and flower children in the 1960s and 70s, corporate greedheads in the 1980s, who controlled western civilisation through the 90s and noughties and are now reaching retirement age - are committing suicide in unprecedented numbers.
The suicide statistics on the Boomers are bizarre, as Westerners in the 40-59 age bracket (as the Boomers now are) hadn't previously tended to kill themselves a lot. The Boomers' parents, for instance, raised during the Great Depression, bloodied and traumatised victors of the most terrible global war ever seen by humanity, didn't commit suicide nearly as much in middle age.
"This is a striking new trend," says social demographer Julie Phillips. "Since the 1930s and up to the 1990s, suicide rates among middle-aged people – people aged 40 to 59 – were declining or pretty stable. But after 2000, this picture changed dramatically."
“We need to pay attention to this new increase in suicides, during a period of life previously thought to be stable and relatively protected from suicide, and in an age group now occupied by extraordinarily large numbers of people,” adds her colleague Ellen Idler.
Curiously the Boomers were also prone to topping themselves quite a lot even when young, back during the hellish hippy-dippy nadir into which Western culture plunged during the 1960s and 70s.
"Higher rates of substance abuse" may be/have been a factor here, according to this statement on the research issued by Emory University.
“You might think that the higher rates in adolescence would lead to lower rates later because the most suicide prone people would be gone but that doesn’t appear to be the case,” says Idler.
One theory on why the Boomers have carried on doing themselves in is that they are more likely to have known someone who committed suicide earlier in life, which apparently carries a copycat risk factor later on. Another is that the pampered Boomers simply can't put up with the general misery and discomfort which come with getting old.
“As children, the baby boomers were the healthiest cohort that had ever lived, due to the availability of antibiotics and vaccines,” Idler says. “Chronic conditions could be more of a rude awakening for them in midlife than they were for earlier generations.”
Given the contrast between the Boomers' passage through life and that experienced by their parents, one might suggest that they simply brace up a bit and get on with it. This might, however, be bad news financially for the following generations who are already saddled with the task of paying for the Boomers' wastrel stewardship of the global finances, prolonged and luxurious retirements, hip replacements and various other costs and expenses.
It may be, as we look back from a more austere future in which the retirement age has been raised to 85 or so and the elderly - far from guzzling pina coladas on cruise ships whilst simultaneously occupying badly-needed residential property - are compulsorily relocated to robot-staffed retirement homes, that we will regard the Boomers as the jammiest generation ever to have lived. Their apparent propensity to top themselves out of drug-addled foolishness, in a tantrum at the "rude awakening" of middle age, or simply like mindless sheep because they have seen others do so, will be all the more puzzling.
Read Phillips, Idler et al's research here. ®