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 Research Projects at the MPIfG

Anomie, Imitation, and Identification: The Werther Effect of Celebrity Suicides on Suicide Rates

Mark Lutter and Karlijn Roex

What effect do celebrity suicides have on a general population’s suicide rate? The project analyzes the role of anomie, imitation, and identification in accounting for the well-known Werther effect by presenting a new approach to measuring the degree of identification with celebrities who have committed suicide. Based on language and page-link data for 3,855 Wikipedia pages for 495 celebrities who committed suicide between 1960 and 2014, the project measures the status a celebrity has in a particular country and calculates the potential country-specific impact of their suicide. It uses the measure in a time-series cross-sectional dataset for 34 OECD countries to assess the impact of celebrity suicides on a country’s overall annual suicide rate. Fixed-effects analyses reveal country-specific effects of celebrity suicides: a significant increase in the overall suicide rate. This finding remains robust across a number of alternative specifications, such as controlling for potential confounders. Furthermore, an analysis of gender homophily effects shows that male celebrity suicides impact the suicide rates of men but not women and vice versa. This result supports the idea of the identification mechanism as an essential precondition for the Werther effect. Project duration: January 2015 to December 2018.
Lutter, Mark, Karlijn Roex, Daria Tisch. 2018. Anomie or Imitation? The Werther Effect of Celebrity Suicides on Suicide Rates in 34 OECD Countries, 1960-2014. MPIfG Discussion Paper 18/4. Cologne: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies. >>more
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