The Youngest Schoolkids In Each Cohort Face Increased Suicide Rates

The disadvantage of being younger than your peers upon entry into school could translate to a higher suicide rate, study suggests.

AsianScientist (Oct. 15, 2015) – A study published in PLOS ONE suggests that children starting school at a younger age relative to their peers is associated with a higher mortality rate by suicide.

Japan has a relatively high suicide rate of 19 per 100,000 people. In particular, it is a matter of concern among young people, with suicide being the leading cause of death in Japanese males aged 20-44 years. Although there is growing evidence that the relatively younger children in each cohort tend to perform more poorly in school, the ‘relative age effect’ on longer term outcomes such as suicide later in life are not well established.

In the present study, Associate Professor Tetsuya Matsubayashi from Osaka University and Associate Professor Michiko Ueda from Syracuse University examined how relative age in a grade affects suicide rates in adolescents and young adults between 15 and 25 years of age.

Using individual death records between 1989 and 2010 from the Vital Statistics of Japan, they found that those born right before the school entry cutoff date—and thus the youngest in their cohort—had a 30 percent higher mortality rate by suicide compared to peers born right after the cutoff date. They also found that those with relative age disadvantage tend to follow a different career path that those with relative age advantage, which may explain their higher suicide mortality rates.

This study shows that the relative age at school entry affects mortality rates by suicide, not just academic performance and economic outcomes as the previous research has demonstrated.

Given that education at the early stage of life plays an important role in people’s future well-being, the results suggest that the arbitrary school entry cutoff date could generate a life-time disadvantage for a non-trivial number of people. These findings highlight the importance of policy intervention that alleviates the relative age effect.

The article can be found at: Matsubayashi and Ueda et al. (2015) Relative Age in School and Suicide Among Young Individuals in Japan: A Regression Discontinuity Approach.


Source: Osaka University.
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