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Can J Psychiatry. 1999 Feb;44(1):82-5.

A new factor in youth suicide: the relative age effect.

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University of Alberta, Edmonton.



To determine whether youth in Alberta who had completed suicide were more likely to be younger than their classmates on entering grade 1 (that is, showed a relative age effect).


Records were obtained for all deaths by suicide by individuals under the age of 20 years in Alberta during the years 1979-1992. The relative age of each of these persons was determined by comparing his or her month of birth to the birth months of the appropriate school-grade cohort.


A disproportionate number of the subjects were born in the second half of the "school eligibility year," indicating a higher probability that those who completed suicide were younger than their classmates.


Previous research indicates that relative age is strongly related to school performance and success in sports. The present study demonstrates that the relative age effect is also a factor in youth suicide. It is suggested that the higher incidence of youth suicide in the group of relatively younger school children may have resulted from poorer school performance, which in turn led to lowered confidence and self esteem. Past research suggests that these conditions may predispose children to hopelessness and depression, which are often thought to be essential components of suicide. Research aimed at neutralizing the negative effects of relative age should have important personal and social consequences.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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